Fates and Fortunes

Does Zaslav know about the downturn?

12/07/2009 04:19:57 PM

zaslavShould someone tell Discovery President and CEO David Zaslav that the country is in a recession? In one of the roughest years in media history, Discovery just keeps pushing its boundaries.

This morning, Discovery announced that Peter Liguori, former president of Fox and FX, will be the company’s new COO, taking over the job that Mark Hollinger departed to head Discovery Networks International out of London.

In his new role, Ligouri will have oversight of Discovery Studios, marketing, corporate communications and affairs, business affairs and media technology as well as production and operations. He will report to Zaslav, and be based out of Discovery’s Silver Spring headquarters, though he says he will be maintaining a presence in Los Angeles, reports B&C’s Alex Weprin. In addition to his operational responsibilities, Liguori will be Discovery’s point person to both OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, and the new channel Discovery is developing with toy and game company Hasbro.

liguoriBagging Ligouri (pictured right) has to be seen as a big win for Zaslav – industry rumors had him headed to the new Comcast- NBC U. And I’m pretty sure that even nomadic Mongols are aware that Oprah is ending her talk show in Sept. 2011; her decision to wrap up her show and devote her time to OWN is another big Zaslav score.

Discovery has been opportunistic in its hiring this year, grabbing a slew of top-level executives. In June, it hired former Crown Media CEO Henry Schleiff to launch its new network, Investigation Discovery. In July, the company hired another Crown/Hallmark vet, Margaret Loesch, to head its new joint venture with Hasbro.

Back in January, B&C’s Claire Atkinson broke the exclusive news that OWN hired Christina Norman, former president of MTV, as CEO. Since then, Norman has put many top executives in place, including Lisa Erspamer, EP of The Oprah Winfrey Show, as Chief Creative Officer.  Other hires include Head of Programming Jamila Hunter, NBC’s former SVP of alternative entertainment; CFO Brent Willman, formerly of Discovery Communications; and Doug Levy, VP of operations.

Both new networks have accompanying studios. Hasbro hired production Stephen J. Davis to run the television studio charged with creating content for Discovery-Hasbro’s new network. (This morning, Hasbro announced a 10-year merchandising deal with Sesame Street — will Big Bird and Friends soon be joining Oprah and making the jump to cable?)

While Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions plans to continue creating and developing content for all platforms, from primetime to syndication to cable to radio, OWN will surely be a big focus for Harpo. Today, Harpo announced that Sheri Salata and Erik Logan will serve as its new presidents, replacing Harpo’s longtime head, Tim Bennett, who will retire at the end of May.

On second thought, keep that recession news under your hat. It’s better for everyone that Zaslav and Co. keep behaving like it’s business as usual.

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