NBCU's CEO Jeff Zucker outed himself as a philistine in an interview with TV Week when he said prior to this week's breaking upfront market that "...we're managing for margin, not for ratings."
TV Week's interview was rather lengthy, but here is Zucker's answer to a question about ratings:
"We want to have great shows. We think we do with Heroes, and Law & Order: SVU and The Office and 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights, you know, up and down the line. But we're managing for margin, not for ratings. So it's the expense of our shows, the consistency of our shows being on the schedule. It's not determined by the size of the ratings, because the size of the ratings of a show we cannot afford is not going to do us any good anymore. This is not because we do not have the outsized hits that we once did. This is because we are in a different environment where the difference between the first and fourth or second and third is incredibly minimal."
Regardless of what you may think about a man with a Harvard education using the phrase "incredibly minimal," what he's really saying if you translate his words from corporate TV network speak into plain English is, "my excuse for being the fourth-place TV network and for not having developed any new programs with socially redeeming values is because GE requires me to make a profit."
Profit margins might be more important than social or cultural responsibility for NBC, but is NBC that different from other commercial media you might ask. And I would answer with, "No NBC is probably not much different from other media conglomerates such as CBS, Disney (ABC), and News. Corp (FOX), but there are media that do have a conscience and a sense of social and cultural responsibility in addition to caring about making a profit."
The Harvard Business Review is one such responsible media organization. It makes money, but it also tries to do some good. An example is one of the Harvard Business Review's Web sites, HBRGreen.org. Check out the video below to see HBR's Editor, Tom Stewart, describe the opportunities for savings and profits in the environmental movement.
The media have responsibilities as a public trust, not just as margin maximizing businesses. They can make a profit and be socially responsible. They can do well by doing good. And we should demand that Jeff Zucker, NBC, and all of the media do more than just manage margins ... like HBRGreen.org does.