GE Corp. (GE) CEO Jeffrey Immelt came to the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco Tuesday to show off an impressive pocket-sized ultrasound device that's not much bigger than an iPhone. The device was amazingly sleek and could prove both useful and an affordable option amidst a sea of red ink in medicine.
Alas, when facing a crowd of reporters, the affable Immelt primarily got barraged with questions about the conglomerate's plans for NBC Universal as scribes spent much of a brief press conference pinging him with questions about GE's present and future media strategy.
In the discussion, Immelt said the company has no plans to sell off NBC Universal and declined to comment on rumors that cable giant Comcast was negotiating to acquire the peacock network and the big film studio. Immelt did reveal some surprising views, namely that he supported online TV service Hulu.com posting all of NBC's content on the Internet for free. He acknowledged that controlling TV content might be futile, as his 22-year old daughter uses Hulu for most of her programming. His choice of content on Hulu? Comedies like "The Office" and, naturally, "30 Rock."
Regarding NBC Universal, Immelt said he was happy with the performance of the unit, despite its lagging ratings and flagging advertising sales. "We've run it for a long time. Financially, the business is performing with its peers. It's a nice big media company," said Immelt. The CEO may have been putting on a brave face as network television continues to suffer from a deep advertising slump that seems to have hastened the shift away from traditional ads towards online spots.
Immelt seemed slightly annoyed at repeated queries about the rumored Comcast deal. If consummated, an NBC Universal acquisition by Comcast would give the biggest cable company in the country a rich pipeline of television content, as well as a serious movie library. Comcast, which has become a rabid buyer of exclusive content rights in high-value arenas such as regional sports, has a stated strategy of adding content to its distribution capabilities in order to wring more money out of monthly subscribers.
For his part, Comcast (CMCSA) CEO Brian Roberts also announced in a speech that his company intended to give customers the option of watching a wide slate of cable shows over Internet connections that will be upgraded to 50 megabits per second. This announcement could have been intended to head off criticism from the Federal Communications Commission and Congress that the large ISPs are blocking innovation and have allowed the U.S. to fall behind global competitors in the race to extend high-speed broadband links to greater and greater chunks of the population.
Immelt, while acknowledging that he would not tell the NBC Universal executive team whether to release more full-length network programming on Hulu.com, stated that he thinks it would be a very good idea. "Personally, I'm in favor of putting more content out there. The Web makes content pervasive, ubiquitous and instantaneous. Increasingly, we've got to really know what consumers want and be flexible around it," said Immelt.
Perhaps that memo has yet to make it to NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker, who is reputed to be the roadblock to putting more NBC content on Hulu, as well as the man who told Hulu CEO Jason Kilar to pull Hulu content off the Boxee video Web browser software platform. Whatever the case, Immelt has a great new ultrasound machine that deserves some attention.
Alex Salkever is Senior Writer at AOL Daily Finance covering technology and greentech. Follow him on twitter @alexsalkever, read his articles, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.