Transcript of Steve Burke's keynote session

Transcript of Steve Burke's keynote session

London conference 2016
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Steve Burke (Credit: Paul Hampartsoumian)
Steve Burke (Credit: Paul Hampartsoumian)


Before we bring up our first keynote speaker, Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, I thought it might make sense to give you all a little history of NBCUniversal, and that is because many, many people in the UK know what Universal Pictures is but it has become my experience that when I say NBCUniversal they are left a little baffled.  So have a look at this tape which will tell you a little bit about our company.


We thought hard about a fitting interviewer for the leader of one of the biggest media portfolios in the world, and we found her. 

Tina Brown is a major success story in her own right.  She is an award winning journalist, editor, author and founder of CEO of Tina Brown Live Media, and has served in her illustrious career as editor‑in‑chief of, get this, Tatler, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Tina Brown and Steve burke (...Applause...) 

Opening Keynote ‑ Steve Burke, NBCUniversal

TINA BROWN:  Good Morning everybody.  After seeing that very impressive and rather flashy video you might expect our guest here, Steve Burke, to perhaps be a big ego'd and, you know, flamboyant visionary leader who runs such an organisation.  He actually is a visionary leader but the main thing he seems to be able to do is to control the big egos of everybody else that work for him. 

As CEO of NBCU he has proved to be uniquely successful at taking a media behemoth comprised of all of these disparate channels and brands and theme parks and personalities and getting them to integrate, collaborate and drive profit.  He calls it the symphony concept, and if you look at his numbers you could consider him the Toscanini of media because in the last 5 years he's led NBCUniversal the company's revenue has increased more than 13 per cent, its cash flow has doubled, NBC is now the leading network for the 18 to 49 demo, it's news division is back on top and it is the number one movie studio in Hollywood and Universal Theme Parks have doubled their revenue.  That is really quite an impressive record.  Of course Steve has had a very long career in media.  As a Disney executive he had the opportunity to develop and found the Disney store concept.  For mastering technology, revolutionising the media world, Steve headed Comcast cable.  President and CEO there he focused on the business of wiring homes with cable, Internet and phone service and how to get content to customers without any wires at all.  In fact the only constant really in his career has been success and in pop culture terms he could very well be the broadcasting world's Steve Austin, its bionic secret weapon.  He's clearly worth a lot more than $6 million to Comcast.

Before we start on this company that you are running that has all these wonderful elements, let's talk about the debate for one minute last night, because really, you know, it was another example of the changing world of media in every way.  Politics have almost become the new Olympics.  You had, there was, I gather, probably going to be 100 million people watching last night.  What does that tell us about live events and television and all of the access to everything On‑demand at once?

STEVE BURKE:  Well, first of all thank you for being here today and thank you for the introduction.  We do think over 100 million people watched.  We have set top box data that said, at least inside the Comcast footprint, over 35 per cent of the homes were turned on to the debate, which would extrapolate to over 100 million.  It was nerve‑racking for me.  I got a copy of the debate sent to me this morning, 4 o'clock in the morning London time, so that I could watch it, because the host of the debate was Lester Holt, who is the anchor of NBC Nightly News, and the environment is so tough right now for anybody moderating anything to try to make sure that it's a fair debate.  We were very worried and concerned for Lester, he ended up doing a very good job.  Thinking about the debate it strikes me first of all that people will turn out for very large live events.  We had on average 27.5 million people watching the Rio Olympics in the United States.  Football games remain a huge, huge thing.  When you get a show like The Voice a lot of people will show up.  It is more challenging today, I think, to get that universality and to find those ‑‑ the number of those events are smaller than they were but people will still show up when you get something that unites the whole country and I think last night, seeing those two candidates on stage, was something people wanted to watch.

TINA BROWN:  Of course a lot of people blame NBC for Donald Trump because of The Apprentice, right?  It's all his fault.

STEVE BURKE:  First of all, The Celebrity Apprentice was on ten years before we showed up but Celebrity Apprentice, you know, at the time he was an entertainer and very good at what he did in that realm.  I think NBC News has done a very good job handling the election and trying to get the right issues out, but it's a very interesting time.

TINA BROWN:  Okay.  So obviously you are killing it now with the numbers at NBC but when you look ahead, you know, for the next five/ten years what gives you nightmares?  What keeps you up at night thinking about this company, this business five/ten years down the line?

STEVE BURKE:  Well if you look at the five and a half years since we've been stewards of NBCUniversal, at the Vancouver Olympics which was 6 years ago the iPad didn't exist, so I would bet the majority of people here have been on their iPad for a long time this morning, and that kind of change over the last 6 years to me has been surprisingly rapid.  And my bet is that it is going to happen in the next 6 years and increasingly a big part of my job is to make sure that we position the company for the future.  I think we've done a very good job of taking NBCUniversal as we found it and making it more successful and more profitable but that's only half of our job.  Half of our job is to maximise the ecosystem that we currently operate in.  The other half, which is the harder half, is to get the company ready for the future.  By the way I think those are the two parts of any management challenge no matter what business you're in.

TINA BROWN:  In except now you have to do it at warp speed.

STEVE BURKE:  Exactly.  There's a conflict between maximising the world as it exists and getting a company ready for the world as it will be.  You have a lot of people who grew up and succeeded greatly in the world as it existed.  I'm 58, the world I grew up in is not gonna be the world that NBCUniversal and Comcast are going to find ten or 20 years from now, and some of the skills, and some of the instincts and behaviour that makes you successful in the traditional world can actually retard your success in the future.

So we're spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to plant the seeds now.

The other thing is many of the seeds you plant will not come to fruition for 5 or ten years.  So if you are managing a company for a quarter of a year, even a five‑year period, I think you tend to ignore the future or put too much emphasis on the present.  But if you're really forcing yourself and forcing your executive team to think 5, 10, 20 years from now, shame on you if you don't start to get more digital DNA inside your company and start to plant those seeds.

TINA BROWN:  A cultural watershed was reached in my own house about two years ago when my 23 year old daughter told me to take the TV out of her room because it was in the way.

STEVE BURKE:  But she would demand to have WiFi.

TINA BROWN:  Absolutely.

STEVE BURKE:  If the WiFi was down for five minutes ‑‑

TINA BROWN:  So how do you make the shift to this new customer who has never watched TV or cable and never will?  You said yourself your own 5 kids will never pay for cable.

STEVE BURKE:  They may pay for cable some day when they start to earn a decent amount of money.  They don't right now.

TINA BROWN:  Freeloading.

STEVE BURKE:  People do when you have a home and you have kids of your own and you have a family and the means to do it, a lot of those people will come back to the traditional cable and satellite ecosystem but they will never watch shows that they don't want to watch.  They will never feel that they have to watch a show when it's on linear television.  They've grown up with DVRs and the ability to move and change and those changes are permanent.  You can really draw a line, and it's really right around the end of the millennial age cohort, around 34/35 years olds because those are people who grew up with broadband, if they were in a place that had broadband, and they will never consume the same way and so we as a company have to go to where they are.  They are spending an increasingly large percentage of their time on sites like Facebook, Snapchat et cetera and you have to be there, you have to acknowledge that.  Our job is to follow eyeballs wherever they are and produce the best content we can and tell stories and provide information however people are consuming that.

So we've got to get ourselves more geared over.  That's an obvious easy conclusion, I think if you are in our business.  The harder part is how do you do it?  If your senior management team is much older than that millennial cohort and not spending all day long on Snapchat and Facebook how do you make sure that you get people who are and get thinking about those ecosystems into that management team and over time migrate a company and I think in a lot of ways it's a much more difficult challenge than taking a broadcaster and getting into the cable business.  If you think about it USA is more like NBC than NBC is like Snapchat.  The skills that made you successful in broadcast transferred fairly easily to cable.  So most of the big US broadcasters made that transition, some more successfully than others, but made that transition fairly gracefully.  I think this is much harder.

TINA BROWN:  It is hard because there's so much content out there.  It would seem to me that the number one challenge is how do you find it, how do you break through that noise when you've got something that you want to reach?  How do you find you don't spend so much corporate energy, as it were, chasing after finding people on their various social channels, which drains the energy and focus?

STEVE BURKE:  Well, it used to be in the good old days that if you had a show that was the least objectionable show it would be a success.  Today the middle of the market is just gone.  There's no such thing as an okay show, people will do whatever they can to find one of those great big breakthroughs, whether it's a movie or a television show, but in the middle, if it's an $80 million movie that's kind of okay or a television show that costs $4 million an hour, that is all right, you are gonna fail.  So a big part of our focus as it relates to the traditional ecosystem is finding those things that have the potential to really break through and then when you find them to get all the resources of the company behind them.  We had a film called "The Secret Life of Pets" made by Illumination, our animation company, headed by a guy named Chris Meledandri, who I think is this generation's Walt Disney, and we knew we had a wonderful film but you worry when you have a show that is wonderful that people are so busy and spending so much time being distracted by everything else that you can't get that show out and make an impact.

So we turned our company upside down, as we do all the time when we have something big, to make sure that everybody we could possibly reach knew "The Secret Life of Pets" was a great movie.  We did it with the Rio Olympics and we do it any time we think we have something that's really compelling that can break through and that's a focus that I think you have to have because it's so hard to get through. 

TINA BROWN:  I'm very interested in how you break down silos in a company.  One of the achievements that you have had at NBC, and everybody says it, is that you have managed to get everybody working in the same direction.  What's your management technique for doing that?  We've seen so many companies, Microsoft was one them, that failed because everybody was, turf warfare was intense, and people, the natural instinct is to protect your bit and not share and not bring people into it.  How do you do it?

STEVE BURKE:  There are a lot of ways to run successful companies and there is a model that says if you have a variety of divisions let everybody kill each other and maybe the strongest will survive, and I've worked in environments like that.  I didn't enjoy it, and I believe ultimately that you can set up a company, we have 22 different businesses, if you look at each of our cable channels and film studio and theme parks.  We're very decentralised.  The people who run those 22 businesses I think get up every morning thinking it is, to some extent, their business, but they are part of a company that stands for things.  We basically say you must co‑operate when a movie like "The Secret life of Pets" comes out or we open Harry Potter in one of the theme parks.  It's not optional to help promote that when the time comes.  And then we stand for certain ways of doing business.  We have a saying "think like an owner not a renter" and that means it's your job if you are the steward of one of our businesses to think beyond the next quarter, to think about the success of the business in a long‑term way as opposed to the success of managing your own career and the press or trying to superficially look like you are doing a good job or self‑aggrandizing.

So we have a whole series of things, certainly a handful of things you need to do if you work for our company but beyond that we count on people to run their own business and operate in a very decentralised way, but we don't tolerate bickering and fighting and wasting a lot of time and over time organisations are very sensitive to what gets rewarded and what gets punished, and in our company if you don't co‑operate and you're not a good colleague you get punished more than you get rewarded and over time people figure that out.

TINA BROWN:  The decision to buy NBCUniversal was quite controversial at the time.  People remembered the AOL TimeWarner fiasco and they had no reason to think distribution and content could work together.  Looking back why did you believe it was the right move?

STEVE BURKE:  Well, I joined Comcast 18 years ago and Brian Roberts and I had always believed that content and distribution work well together.  But only if you manage it.  If you put content and distribution together and just let it kind of flop around and people fight or whatever then it's not gonna work.  But if you look at Rupert Murdoch or John Malone, time after time after time they put content and distribution together and it worked beautifully.  And so our dream was to get big on the distribution side and we ended up becoming America's largest cable company, and then get bigger in content.  We had a handful of channels before NBCUniversal but not a very large portfolio.  So we always thought it made sense.  It was not, most of Wall Street, the analytical community, thought that we clearly knew how to be a good distributor but I think they wondered how we would do once it came time to get into the content business and we also did the deal five and a half years ago and the world was a lot different than it is today.  The advertising business was depressed.  The world was more uncertain and economically challenged, but we always thought that the content side of the business was a wonderful part of the business if you managed it well.  You have to manage it well but if you do ‑‑ at the time that we bought NBCUniversal the operating cash flow of the business was about 3.2 billion and we paid about $26 million for the deal.  This year we'll do 7.3, 7.4 billion.  So we have created a lot of value.  By the way we should do more than we're doing, we still have a lot of opportunity.  But we really like the content, we like the distribution business, we like the content business and believe that they are better together.

TINA BROWN:  You've done a lot of acquiring and investing recently, why did you want DreamWorks?

STEVE BURKE:  DreamWorks was a very, very specific opportunity.  We have had such a good experience in the animated film business and if you look back since the beginning of animated films no studio has been able to make more than two animated films a year.  It's just such a labour intensive and all consuming thing that groups of people can't make more than two animated films a year.  The reason why the Walt Disney Company can make four is because they have Disney and Pixar and they exist with two separate organisations in two different cities.  So we think the animated film businesses may be the best part of the feature film business and DreamWorks makes two films a year and will now be able to go from two to four.  At the same time DreamWorks is advancing our agenda in a number of areas that are related to the film business.  They are in the animated television business, which we are not presently.  They have a consumer products business with all the DreamWorks characters, we have a consumer products business and we can put those two together.  Then all the DreamWorks characters will be in all of our theme parks.

TINA BROWN:  And running in the next election perhaps?

STEVE BURKE:  A lot of different ways to put them together.

TINA BROWN:  Okay.  Well last week Brian Roberts announced a collaboration with Netflix, which I thought was very interesting because you guys have been competing for so long.  When did this perestroika happen with Netflix, that you suddenly decided you and Netflix should be in bed together?

STEVE BURKE:  What Tina is referring to is on Comcast set top boxes Netflix is going to be integrated so consumers will be able to access Netflix without turning the television set off or streaming from their computers.  The majority of Comcast customers have Netflix.  There are 40 million Netflix customers in the United States and I think Neil Smit who runs our cable business looked at it and said to a degree those Netflix customers are being inconvenienced every time they go from the traditional linear television ecosystem over to Netflix and why inconvenience them if we have technology that can make that simple?  You can look at it negatively and say "oh my gosh, every person who goes over to Netflix potentially will never come back", but the reality is those Netflix customers enjoy, the vast majority of them enjoy the cable channels they get and why not make it easier and make it simpler and less intrusive and have a happier customer.

TINA BROWN:  What's so staggering with the advent of all the streaming channels is the global community, in the sense of watchers that it's creating.  I remember just recently I was in Delhi and it had just been the week that the OJ Simpson mini series had come out, I think Fox did that, and people in Delhi had all watched it and it staggered me that it was the same discussion over dinner in Delhi that it was in New York about OJ Simpson.

You know, Turner chairman John Martin recently said that one of his top priorities was to generate more intellectual property that we own and control which isn't easily replicated.  What does that mean though for independent creators?  Is it good or bad news for independent creators, because if the behemoths like yourself are owning all of this content, creating all of this content, what happens to the outside production houses?

STEVE BURKE:  We'll always take a good idea from anyone.  There are advantages, talking now about NBC or our cable channels, there are advantages in the kind of ecosystem that you are talking about, to owning a lot of your own content.  But I don't think we'll ever own 100 per cent of our content on any of our channels.  People are constantly looking for great new ideas and I think great new ideas will always see the light of day, in both movies and television, just because they are so hard to find.

TINA BROWN:  Of course Downton Abbey was an absolutely monster hit and, you know, you have several production labels, including Monkey Kingdom, Chocolate Media, Carnival, what did you learn from the Downton Abbey success?  Has it made you want to invest more in UK product and drama?

STEVE BURKE:  As Kevin mentioned we have a huge investment profile in the United Kingdom.  Working Title has been part of our company for a long time and if you looked at all of the films that Working Title has brought to the market, distributed and marketed and financed by our company, plus Carnival, you know, this is a huge, huge market for us and our idea, one of our central ideas, is we want to be the best place for talented people to bring their great ideas.  It sounds very simple, it's harder in practice but whether it's Steven Spielberg bringing back Jurassic World 11 years after the previous Jurassic, or whether it is the guys at Working Title bringing a great idea to us, we want to be a place where when they bring the idea to us we respect them, market the hell out of it, make sure that every part of the company gets excited about it.  A lot of that is going on in the United Kingdom and a lot of that is going on in places outside the United Kingdom and outside of the United States and my prediction is more and more of that will be international.  NBCUniversal and Comcast are less international than News Corp or the Walt Disney Company or Time Warner and I look at that as an opportunity.

TINA BROWN:  So you are going to be expanding in that way?


TINA BROWN:  Oh my God, he is going to be buying something else, I can't take it.

How is Brexit going to impact NBCU?  I mean, sterling has tanked 10 per cent, is ITV looking suddenly rather cheap?

STEVE BURKE:  Well, there are a lot of people in this room who will understand Brexit and the politics of Brexit, but it's concerning, I mean business people don't like uncertainty and even if the uncertainty is 2, 3, 4, 5 years from now, we have had such a good experience creatively in the United Kingdom, and it's the headquarters of our international operations, that you hope and pray that it's going to remain that way forever.  And when you see something like Brexit the morning after at 7.30 in the morning, I had a conference call with Kevin saying, "What does this mean?"  We are watching it very closely and hoping that it all ‑‑ that we end up having the kind of experience here that we've had forever.

TINA BROWN:  And what about ITV?

STEVE BURKE:  No, nothing to say there.

TINA BROWN:  No comment?


TINA BROWN:  But they are doing a lot of production, their own production house, that would fit in with your kind of desire to create kind of more content?

STEVE BURKE:  Yes and no, yes and no.  I mean, we have a very healthy respect for how hard it is to program a network.  NBC is ‑‑ you know, we're essentially an American company, NBC is in our backyard, and I think it's very challenging to think about the network side of free‑to‑air broadcasting anywhere outside of the United States.  I think we'd be more interested in distributing the product that we make and creatively making television shows and movies outside of the United States.

TINA BROWN:  When you make a big acquisition like, for instance, at DreamWorks, or you just invested in BuzzFeed, which is also very interesting, absorbing new businesses is often very challenging and frequently strains, you know, the system inside and often looks good on paper, but actually inside it's creates a lot of mayhem. 

What is your sort of philosophy and management technique for integrating these new businesses when you take them on?

STEVE BURKE:  Well, we've really built our company through acquisition.  20 years ago we had 4 million cable customers, and that was pretty much the whole company, and today we have 22 million cable customers, about the same time of high speed data customers in all of NBCUniversal.  And really the major growth engines has been acquisitions.  And our primary idea is that if it takes a year between signing and closing use that year to really get a plan and make sure that it's not ambiguous at all, that it's completely clear what the mission of the company is, who is in charge and who does what the day the deal closes.  And then you have to take a very activist role and make difficult decisions, if it means people leaving the company or major changes. 

But we found that that's your best bet, to get right on it and not sit back and say, well, we'll learn more about the company and get going.  And we've found that that works well.  We are applying that same discipline to Dreamworks, Jeff Shell who runs the Universal Studio, has a team and they've been spending a huge amount of time on that.  And it means that the first six months or twelve months is very, very busy and all‑consuming.  But organisations need to know what the plan is, need to know who is in charge and our experience at least has been if you hit the ground running and are very proactive you'll do better.

TINA BROWN:  With BuzzFeed presumably this was an attempt or a desire on your part to bring in digital people who are digital natives, as opposed to people who have learnt it as a sort of learned skill.

What kind of impact is BuzzFeed having on NBCU?

STEVE BURKE:  Well, about a year ago we put $200 million into BuzzFeed and $200 million into a company called Vox.  We actually announced both deals at the same time, and we're hoping to make money on the investments, we didn't do it to lose money; but the real reason why we invested in both companies is because we think they do things we've ‑‑ we thought last August, and still think today, they do things that we need to learn how to get good at that we are not good at. 

BuzzFeed is an extraordinary source of content that has amazing capabilities in terms of getting things viral, onto Facebook, onto Snapchat, all their distributed content.  And if you look at a lot of our digital businesses, we have 50 digital businesses inside NBCUniversal, they are much better at that than we are.  And we have learned a tremendous amount.  We have a list of 10 or 12 things that we're doing with BuzzFeed right now, we worked very closely with them on all aspects of our business and their business.  A great example about BuzzFeed, when the Rio Olympics came along we decided we really should have a Discover channel on Snapchat, and NBC Sports thought that was a good idea as well and instinctively said, well, we have the people to program a Snapchat Discover channel.  And any of you who have been on Snapchat those Discover channels look a hell of a lot different than what you see when you see a highly‑produced Olympic broadcast on NBC.  And so we went to BuzzFeed and said, "Why don't you do the NBC Olympics Snapchat channel?"  A lot of the people inside NBC Sports considered that heresy.  And we said, "Well, come back and tell us your first few story ideas, the first ‑‑ BuzzFeed's first story idea was: what if you ate as much as Michael Phelps but never exercised?  And you could see the producers from NBC Sports were just aghast, but the reality is that 12 people that Snapchat sent down to Rio, probably aged 25 or 26, did a wonderful job with the Olympic Snapchat channel, and anybody who went on and participated and watched the Olympic Snapchat channel, in my opinion, were more likely that night to watch NBC during prime time.

So I think a company like ours has to be honest and willing to say, okay, not all this expertise resides in the company, so how can we acquire or invest or build or hire to get better at that?

And the last year with BuzzFeed and with Vox has been great in that regard.

TINA BROWN:  With the Olympics obviously you made a huge bet in 2011 when you got the exclusive rights, you paid 7.75 billion to present the Olympics, I gather through 2032.  But since then the migration to mobile has been fast and furious, so what lessons have you learned from Rio that you are gonna be applying three or four years from now?  And are you a bit nervous about the fact that with the timelines of the different ones coming up in Asia and so which are really antipathetic to the American audience, how are you going to keep that traction going and that aggregated viewership when it's going to be so disseminated and on such different time zones?

STEVE BURKE:  So we have the Olympics, as you said, through 2032, which is another 16 years.  And we did the deal maybe two years ago.  And when we presented the deal to our board our board said, "Well, how do you know what television is going to look like in 16 or 18 years?" Our answer was we don't know.  We had to write in the deal to ‑‑ to deliver the Olympics however technology evolves, so if, for whatever reason, the Olympics ‑‑ all of television viewing is done on a best viewer day basis or anything else we can evolve as audiences change.

But our real bet was that 16 or 18 years later that large numbers of people will resonate with the Olympics for the same reason they resonate today, that it's a wonderful event that celebrates the best inhumanity, and that large groups of people, including families, 16 or 18 years, will continue to watch. 

The Rio ratings were down about 15 per cent versus, London and there was a lot of press saying oh millenials aren't showing up now watching.  The reality is 100 million people watched the Olympics on digital and, as I mentioned, 27.5 million watched, on average, live.  So millenials loved the Olympics, and it was by far the most successful financially and every other sort of in terms of the metrics that we use to measure success.  And advertisers loved it ‑ every single night of the Olympics, if you add up the ratings of ABC, CBS and Fox and multiply that sum by 3 we beat that every night.  So for the 17 days of the Olympics we were so dominant that if you are a big advertiser that is exactly what you want if you are trying to create a brand or change people's perceptions about an existing brand.

TINA BROWN:  Well, Sean Smith made a lot of noise when he spoke at the television conference in August when he said the 50 second TV advertising slot is finished. 

What is your sense of that?  I mean, how are you gonna still continue to monetise all of these different efforts with advertising also entirely changing the way it puts its ‑‑ its focus?

STEVE BURKE:  Television is still a very good business, and it's going to be a very good business for a long time.  I was at ABC 20 years ago and sat in a room with a bunch of strategic‑planning people who predicted that in 15 or 20 years broadcast television would cease to exist in the United States.  I think it's a true statement, but if you look at the broadcasters in the United States we collectively make more today than we did 20 years ago when we made that bet.

So the ‑‑ people like to say, okay, everything is completely changing in a day and it's all gonna go away.  The traditional television business is still a very good business.  The movie business, if you do it right, can be a very good business; the theme park business can be a very good business.

I do think it's unlikely the next 10 or 20 years that the television business is gonna growth the way it has in the last 10 or 20, but that doesn't mean it's not still a very good business.  And shame on us if we don't increase that growth rate or have ambition to increase that growth rate by investing in some of the new technologies.  But to say that it's going away, I think would be doing a disservice to ‑‑ these are still very good businesses and will continue to be.

TINA BROWN:  Well, as you watch your five kids watching ‑‑ being consumers, what are you learning from their habits, and what are you ‑‑ how has it affected your own viewing?  What do you watch?

STEVE BURKE:  Well, I try as much as I can to get on Instagram, get on Snapchat with my kids and on my own.  It will never be second nature to me the way it is to my kids.  I still love aspects of linear television.  We have a show called This Is Us, which today is a Tuesday so it will be on tonight in the United States, coming after The Voice.  It is a beautifully‑written show about a bunch of different families.  And the ability of a great television show to unite a country and unite people is something that I think will exist for a long time.

So I'm ‑‑ I'm straddling, my own behaviour is more of someone of my own age but I am trying as hard as I can to pay attention to people who didn't grow up the way I grew up.

TINA BROWN:  I'm told that at NBC you are now having digital mentors coming in, that executives are being given digital mentors, which sounds a little daunting.  Do you have your own digital leprechaun who arrives and tells you what to think and is it actually working?  Or is this attempt to straddle the generational divide between those who are digital natives and those who have to learn it impossible?  Are the NBCUniversal executives going to have to get younger and younger to address this?  And where does the knowledge go?

STEVE BURKE:  I don't think it's impossible, I think you have to be curious, I think you have to enjoy spending time with people like Jim Bankoff of Vox, or Jonah Peretti at BuzzFeed, or some of our digital executives, Paul Yanover at Fandango and asking them what they are working on, what they're excited about. 

You know, there are a lot of times in one's career where you get associated with the business you've never been in before.  And I think as long as you ask questions and have real passion and try to identify people who are better than you at doing certain things you can succeed.  And I certainly hope that's true of the digital transition.  And we'll make a lot of mistakes, we're a company that makes mistakes all the time with movies and television shows and undoubtedly we'll make mistakes in terms of digital.  But I think the biggest mistake we can make of all is just sitting and saying, okay, we like the existing ecosystem and we're gonna forget about all this stuff.

TINA BROWN:  So looking just ahead again, as we sort of draw to a close here, what are you excited about coming up with NBC?  And what have you got your eyes on as a new development that you would like to feel that you are in a few years from now?

STEVE BURKE:  Well maybe the biggest surprise that we had in the last five‑and‑a‑half years is how good a business the theme park business is.  And as a company that was primarily concentrating on television, and to a secondary degree movies that were on television channels and on cable systems, we really didn't have much experience with the theme park business.  I had worked in the theme park business when I was at Disney 25 years ago, but as a company Comcast had no experience with it, and it is a really good business, and it's very, very related to the intellectual property that you make when you make animated films or big movies like Fast and Furious or Harry Potter.

And I think if you go out 15, 20, 25 years from now families increasingly will want to have vacations where they're not surrounded by technology and where they are at a place where they can share experiences. 

So I'm very excited about the theme park business. 

I also like the fact that it's a business where if you build it they will come, if you have great creative and great attractions and build great hotels you can grow it by investing and getting the returns on that investment.

TINA BROWN:  And you have been now a media executive for a long time and you just renewed your contract for another, what, three years, is it?



STEVE BURKE:  Who's counting?

TINA BROWN:  Who's counting.

What's the biggest change that you've seen?  I mean you've been in this business now a long time, you were at ABC, you were at Disney.  You've now been at NBCUniversal and you've extended.  What's the biggest change for you personally in running this company now to how it was when you were ‑‑?

STEVE BURKE:  I'm sure everybody who ‑‑ everybody forever had been saying, boy, things are more complicated now, but I think in our ‑‑ in the media business things are infinitely more complicated.  And on the one hand you can look at that and say ‑‑ and be intimidated by that, and you literally can't pick up a newspaper without reading three or four stories a day about technologies that are impacting the businesses that we happen to be in.  But I look at it and say: what could be more exciting than to be in a company that's right in the middle of all this?  That's right in the middle of the most exciting, impactful change in a generation, which is the Internet and how it's changing all the ways that we consume and our entertainment and forums.

So ‑‑ and to me that raises the challenge of all these jobs, and in some ways makes them more exhausting and more difficult; but it's also a hell of a lot more fun and more interesting and stimulating.

TINA BROWN:  When you hire people are you looking for something different to what you were looking for 20 years ago?

STEVE BURKE:  I think so, I think you are looking more for people who are curious and passionate and willing to change.  And if somebody came into my office wanting to join our company and they clearly had no interest at all in how the world is evolving, I wouldn't be interested in that.  I mean, I think you have to ‑‑ you have to be ‑‑ you have to be aware of all the challenges and all the opportunities that this new digital world is creating and get excited about it.  If you're not, you're not gonna succeed.

TINA BROWN:  Thank you Steve Burke very much, we could go on for much longer.  But I think as a kind of tour de raison of the world we're in it's remarkable how much you have done and seen. 

So thank you so much.

STEVE BURKE:  Thank you.




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