Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, called comedian Jon Stewart’s attacks on business network CNBC “incredibly unfair.”
At a media conference Wednesday in New York, Zucker said the “Daily Show” host’s recent criticisms of CNBC, its “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer and business media in general were “completely out of line.”
Stewart has had strong words for CNBC on his Comedy Central show, arguing that journalists who cover Wall Street should have done more to warn of the financial meltdown through critical reporting, instead of acting like market cheerleaders.
Zucker said while interviewed on a stage by BusinessWeek that while “everyone wants to find a scapegoat,” to suggest that the business media or CNBC was responsible for the economic meltdown is “absurd.”
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A Comedy Central spokeswoman said the channel had no comment.
Zucker was upbeat on CNBC’s viewership, saying that while traditionally people shift away from watching financial news when the economy is doing poorly, the public in the current downturn is “far more” intrigued by the intersection of business, the economy and Wall Street.
Even so, NBC has been squeezed by the economic downturn and a slowdown in advertising revenue that has hurt every type of media outlet. In December, the company laid off 500 employees, or about 3 percent of its work force.
Zucker acknowledged uncertainty in the advertising market because of the economic crisis — even, “frankly, some paralysis on the part of advertisers who aren’t sure what their budgets will be.”
He nonetheless expects NBC’s cable business, which includes channels like Bravo, USA and MSNBC, to continue to do well on the advertising front, while “broadcast will be slower.” Cable networks account for about 60 percent of the company’s operating profit, and, said Zucker, “that’s where our growth is going to come from.”
Asked whether Hulu.com, a joint venture between NBC and News Corp.’s Fox that offers free, ad-supported TV shows and movies, can make money, Zucker answered “yes.”
“Let me just say it’s well ahead of plan and something we think will be an important contributor to our company for many years to come,” he said.
Zucker was speaking at a media summit presented by McGraw-Hill Cos.