Peter Kafka

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NBC CEO Jeff Zucker: Jon Stewart Was “Incredibly Unfair” to CNBC

NUP_104949_0188Hard to imagine that NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker spends a lot of time thinking about “The Daily Show” critique of CNBC. But when he sat down for a Q&A this morning with BusinessWeek’s Ellen Pollock, that was topic A.

For the record, Zucker thinks that “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart was out of line when he launched a multiweek campaign against CNBC in general and Jim Cramer in particular. But Zucker had his own target during this morning Q&A: The U.S. newspaper industry.

Over and over again, Zucker explained NBC’s decisions about Web distribution, prime-time programming or any other issue by announcing that he was willing to embrace change–and that he wasn’t going to hide from it, as the newspapers have.

Sample quote, while explaining NBC’s decision to move Jay Leno to 10 p.m. and essentially concede the prime-time ratings race: “Too many media organizations, particularly print, particularly newspapers, weren’t willing to question the model.” And here’s another one, when he was talking about changing TV viewing habits among kids: If NBC doesn’t embrace change, he said, “we will become the Rocky Mountain News, and we will become the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.”

Want more? I took notes on the Q&A live during the event. To view them, click the “Play” button on the box at the bottom of this post.

NBC Universal CEO is speaking with BusinessWeek’s Ellen Pollock, who I’m sure will at least be able to get him to crack a bigger smile than the one he’s got on the mug shot above.

Zucker’s in an interesting place right now: For much of 2008, he had to defend his unit’s performance (it missed its quarterly goals twice) and insist that it was really unlikely that parent company GE (GE) would sell off NBC altogether. But now that GE’s finance arm is in disarray, NBC looks comparatively healthy.

Hoping we’ll hear about Hulu, Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes, the rival Web/cable access plans proposed by Comcast (CMCSA), Time Warner (TWX) and Time Warner Cable (TWC).

I’m going to try liveblogging the event with a tool I’ve enjoyed using on other sites, from Let me know how it works for you, either in comments below or via email.