UPDATE, 7:05 AM: CEO David Zaslav refused to put any daylight between himself and Oprah Winfrey as analysts in a conference call this morning asked for more insight into the prospects for their struggling OWN joint venture. Now that Winfrey is running the operation, it has “a team she has confidence in, and I have confidence in,” he said. He sidestepped a question about whether Discovery has the right to terminate its agreement with Winfrey, or to re-purpose the channel — for example by moving it to the Web. “We’re up for about a year,” he says. “If we grow a meaningful audience, and we think we will, this will be a significant asset.” Zaslav says that the channel “learned a great deal about its audience” last year and is “off to a nice start in 2012″ with returning shows including Our America With Lisa Ling and Sweetie Pie. Also, “Oprah will be featured in additional formats. … We’re excited to grow this network in 2012.” The company says that, as a matter of policy, it doesn’t break out profits for individual channels.
This is now happening — I have learned that Discovery Communications COO Peter Liguori will be leaving the company after two years. The veteran TV executive is expected to stick around until the end of the year. (He started at Discovery in January 2010.) He will not be replaced. Liguori, who previously ran Fox and FX, is the latest top Discovery Communications executive to exit as the company’s president and CEO David Zaslav now faces three upcoming major departures in his upper ranks; Discovery Channel president Clark Bunting and Discovery Communications CFO Bradley Singer both announced earlier this year that they will leave at the beginning of 2012. Bunting’s announcement came a couple of months after he was made to report to TLC General Manager Eileen O’Neill in an executive restructuring. Despite beating earnings expectations in the just-reported third quarter, Discovery Communications continues to struggle with its joint ventures, especially OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, which sucked up another $12 million investment in 3Q. Liguori was hands-on involved in the January launch of OWN and in May he was named interim CEO of the fledgling cable network following the departure of Christina Norman. Two months later, Winfrey took over the CEO position, and Liguori’s involvement decreased to a point of him having no day-to-day role at the channel. In addition to representing Discovery Communications in its three joint ventures — OWN; The Hub, which also has had a hard time; and 3Net — Liguori’s duties as COO included oversight of Marketing, Discovery Studios, Corporate Communications and Corporate Affairs, Business Affairs, and Media Technology, Production and Operations.
UPDATE 6:15AM: Discovery just put out a release announcing Liguori’s departure:
Silver Spring, Md. – Discovery Communications today announced that Chief Operating Officer Peter Liguori has decided to depart the company at the end of the year. Liguori was responsible for launching numerous creative and brand marketing initiatives around the world, including overseeing the successful launches of Discovery’s joint ventures in The Hub, OWN, and 3net.
President and CEO David Zaslav said, “Pete’s leadership, enthusiasm and creative vision have brought a fresh and important perspective to Discovery.
Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav have run out of excuses: With their unofficial relaunch today of OWN, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves if their struggling joint venture fails to show a big improvement in the ratings following a dismal 3Q. In its targeted demo, women 25-54, OWN delivered a rating of .16 — down 16% vs. the same period last year when the channel was still Discovery Health. OWN may have set a deceptively low bar for itself; word is that it cut back on marketing in preparation for the relaunch. Still, the channel is betting everything on Oprah’s star power — and, to a lesser extent, Rosie O’Donnell’s — and that will be put to the test beginning today with the launch of The Rosie Show (7-8 PM) and Oprah’s Lifeclass (8-9 PM). Winfrey’s program, built on clips from her syndicated talk show, begins with one of her classics: for an episode about “ego,” she will include scenes from the show where she illustrated how much weight she lost from a liquid protein diet by wheeling in a wagon filled with 70 pounds of fat. Discovery will air both shows today on TLC, Investigation Discovery, Discovery Fit & Health and Planet Green as well as OWN. The joint venture also is spending more than $10M for marketing, not including free ad time on Discovery-owned networks. The cash is going for ads on hit shows such as The X Factor and Dancing With The Stars, as well as radio and billboards, and websites including Yahoo, Google, People.com, Technorati, and TVGuide.com.
(Silver Spring, Md.) — Discovery Communications today announced the appointment of Jean-Briac (JB) Perrette as Chief Digital Officer, effective October 17, 2011. Perrette most recently served as President, Digital and Affiliate Distribution and Content Distribution Strategy for NBCUniversal.
The joint-venture channels — OWN with Oprah Winfrey, and The Hub with Hasbro — aren’t included. What’s more, “there is not any specific content that Netflix is entitled to,” Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav told investors this morning at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia Conference. He wouldn’t talk about the economics of the deal but says that they will “become apparent” the next time the company reports its quarterly earnings. He adds that while “we don’t know what’s going to happen with Netflix” — which is grappling with consumer fury after it raised prices 60% for those who want to stream video and rent DVDs –”right now we think that will not create an issue for us.” Here’s the release about Discovery’s new Netflix agreement:
Los Gatos, Calif. and Silver Spring, Md. — Netflix, Inc. and Discovery Communications today announced a two-year non-exclusive licensing agreement that allows Netflix members to instantly watch prior-season series and specials, including an expanded selection of additional seasons of popular series from Discovery, TLC and Animal Planet, as well as Investigation Discovery, Science and Military Channel. Among the highlights are Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild, TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, and Animal Planet’s River Monsters and other titles from Discovery’s rich program library.
A day after the UK’s Culture Minister floated the idea of tightening media regulation in the wake of News Corp’s hacking and bribery scandal, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav threw some cold water on the idea. Zaslav today told the …
Now that Big Media’s 2Q earnings season is over, the big question on Wall Street is: Did it give us any insight into the future? CEOs’ cheery talk about strong ad sales in TV’s upfront market, the expected bump next year from political ads, and the revenues coming in from online streaming services may be irrelevant if the economy sinks into a deep, new recession. CEOs say they see no evidence of trouble yet. The industry’s leading cheerleader, CBS chief Les Moonves, channeled his inner Buzz Lightyear last week saying that he has “every reason to believe that we will deliver strong results throughout the rest of the year, into 2012 and beyond.” Investors still sliced 6.3% off of CBS’ market value. The Dow Jones U.S. Media Index is down about 16% in the last month as traders anticipate cuts in ad spending, ticket buying, subscriptions — the works. If the pessimists are right, then the race is on: Which company will be the first to change its message from “people will buy media because they have cash” to “people will buy media because it helps them to forget their problems”?
Here are other themes from the latest earnings reports:
Jobs: Media companies still aren’t hiring. No one said that so baldly, but it’s there between the lines: CEOs talked more about financial engineering – cutting costs and returning cash to shareholders – than about spending to become more competitive. Time Warner recorded $24M in layoff-related expenses, quadruple the amount from the same quarter last year, while Viacom spent $14M, up from zero last year. Yet virtually every media company is repurchasing shares or increasing its dividend. The message? CEOs can’t persuade investors that the companies know how to make a decent profit from their cash, and shareholders want it back.
Pay TV: This was “the weakest (quarter) in the industry’s history,” says Bernstein Research’s Craig Moffett. Analysts were startled to see the largest cable, satellite, and telco companies collectively lose about 195,000 video customers. The cord cutters don’t fit the stereotype of well-to-do technophiles. Moffett says that “all the evidence” shows that a growing number of people – especially young adults — simply can’t afford pay TV. Dish Network seemed to confirm that thesis by saying that it will shift its marketing focus to upscale consumers instead of bargain hunters. With the U.S. market stalled, it’s easy to see why cable programmers want investors to look at their expansion efforts in growing markets overseas such as India, Russia, China, and Brazil. “It is the current momentum and potential of our international assets that present a meaningful, unique opportunity for us,” Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav told analysts.
UPDATE: Discovery Chief Says 3D TV Growing “Slower Than Expected” As 2Q Company Results Beat Estimates
UPDATE, 6:50 AM: Not much from the conference call with analysts about the most interesting story at Discovery: the recent changes at its struggling joint venture with Oprah Winfrey, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Oprah recently named herself CEO and Chief Creative Officer. Zaslav says that “she is in place as CEO already,” and “we now have her creative team in place.” That means Discovery COO Peter Ligouri — named OWN’s interim CEO in May when the partners dumped Christina Norman — can “spend more time with us.”
Hollywood is very much on the minds of cable executives meeting in Chicago this week at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual trade show. Introducing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his welcoming remarks, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav said that “in our industry he’s known as Ari’s brother” — referring to WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel. The mayor picked up the theme by offering a mock apology on behalf of his family. “You know him as an agent,” he said. “We know him as a brother. We thought we got the worse end of the deal.” He said that when HBO introduced its series Entourage, Ari wanted to know what Rahm thought of the Ari Gold character who’s based on the super agent. “I like Ari Gold more than I like you,” Rahm says he replied.