A terrible fall season at NBC is forcing the network to consider scaling back the number of hours it airs programming, Chief Executive Jeff Zucker told an investor conference Monday.
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While NBC will continue to fund the creation of pilots, Zucker told analysts at a media investor conference sponsored by UBS that NBC is considering cutting the number of hours or perhaps even the number of nights it provides programming.
"Can we continue to program 22 hours of prime-time? Three of our competitors don't. Can we afford to program seven nights a week? One of our competitors doesn't," Zucker said. "All of these questions have to be on the table. And we are actively looking at all of those questions."
Zucker's comments came after the company last week laid off 500 employees — about 3 percent of its work force of 15,000 — as part of a plan to trim $500 million next year.
Part of the problem at NBC has to do with the economic crisis and slowdown in advertising revenue in a market that is "as difficult as any we've seen," Zucker said. "Businesses are just afraid to commit."
Zucker said he did not blame the poor ratings at NBC on NBC Entertainment co-chairmen Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff.
"We have not had a good fall at NBC. I don't think that's lost on anyone," he said, adding, "but in no way have we lost confidence in either one of them."
Zucker also said there needs to be a major change at its 10 owned-and-operated local TV stations, which have been hard-hit by a decline in advertising, especially from the auto sector.
"We're in an era where if we don't change the models of these local TV stations, we will be newspapers, we will be car companies," he said. "I don't want to be a company that files for bankruptcy."
NBC was doing stronger on the cable network front, and Zucker said he expects revenues from its cable channels, which include Bravo, USA Network and MSNBC, to grow in the double-digit percentages next year.
In 2009, double-digit growth in cable advertising and single-digit growth in affiliate fees will lift the division, which accounts for 60 percent of the profit at the company, a unit of General Electric Co., he said.
"Every one of our cable networks ... are going to enjoy their best year ever this year both from a financial standpoint and a ratings standpoint," Zucker said. "We believe that will again be the case in 2009."