Assuming that the government OKs Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal, network chief executive Jeff Zucker will depart.
While I’m not one to dwell on personnel changes at entertainment companies, Zucker’s an interesting figure. As CNet points out, he’s notorious for giving tech companies a hard time over NBC content. Notably, NBC tried to get a cut of iPod revenue while negotiating iTunes licensing of TV shows, and NBC is not taking part in the 99-cent show rentals Apple TV will offer. Zucker said that price would “devalue” the network’s content.
NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage was also terrible. Event feeds were unavailable online to people who didn’t have cable subscriptions, and major events were tape-delayed and kept offline to force primetime viewing.
But when I think of Zucker, I’m reminded most of his hard line against Boxee, which tried to use content from Hulu, the web video site backed by NBC, News Corp and ABC.
Boxee’s software, and soon-to-come hardware, pull video from around the web into a slick, TV-friendly interface. Its attempts to include Hulu caused an endless back-and-forth, as Hulu kept trying to thwart Boxee, and vice versa. When Congress was vetting Comcast’s proposed NBC acquisition last February, Zucker responded to a question about this little battle by calling Boxee “illegal.”
Then, Boxee chief executive and founder Avner Ronen picked Zucker’s argument apart. He noted that Boxee technically uses a web browser to access Hulu content, and serves up Hulu’s ads, making money for the site. In hindsight, NBC was likely setting a precedent for Hulu Plus, a $10 per month premium service, as the only way to access the site through the television.
I’m not naive enough to think that Zucker’s departure will suddenly make life easier for Boxee, Apple or any other company that peddles Internet TV, especially since Comcast has a vested interest in protecting the cable television business. According to MSNBC, Comcast Chief Operating Officer Steve Burke is likely to oversee the joint venture. Zucker’s tenure had a profound impact on what we can watch online, but I predict that NBC content will become even tougher for Internet TV companies to obtain.