NBCUniversal’s Steve Burke Praises Lester Holt’s Debate Performance

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke praised Lester Holt’s moderating of the presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, saying the “NBC Nightly News” anchor “ended up doing a very good job.”

Burke confessed Tuesday that he and his colleagues had been “very worried and concerned for Lester,” because “the environment is so tough right now.” Earlier this month, “Today” show anchor Matt Lauer was widely excoriated for his handling of a forum in which his questioning of Republican candidate Trump was seen as unfairly easy compared to his questioning of Democratic nominee Clinton.

But Burke said he was relieved and pleased by Holt’s performance, which some commentators criticized as being at times too passive. Burke also defended NBC News’ coverage of the election campaign, one of the most divisive presidential contests in American history, saying that the network had “done a very good job” of getting the right issues out.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society conference in London, Burke estimated that Monday night’s highly anticipated debate may have been watched by 100 million viewers in the U.S., based on data from Comcast’s set-top boxes, which showed more than 35% of homes with the cable service tuned in to the faceoff. 

In other remarks, Burke dismissed the idea, put to him by Tina Brown, the former editor of The New Yorker magazine, that the fall in value of the British pound made ITV an attractive target for NBCUniversal, whose growth has come primarily through acquisitions. “Nothing to say there,” Burke said, adding: “We’re essentially an American company.” ITV is Britain’s largest commercial broadcaster.

Burke was upbeat over his company’s investments in online outlets such as BuzzFeed and Vox, which he said had much to teach NBCUniversal about mastering the digital world. He also called the acquisition of DreamWorks Animation a smart move, because “we think the animated film business is the best part of the film business.”

The biggest surprise of the last several years, Burke said, has been “how good of a business the theme park business is.” As long as a company can capitalize on strong intellectual property, build good attractions and quality hotels, theme parks present an excellent opportunity. “If you build it, they will come,” he said.

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