Liguori's Launch Sequence Commencing

Exec talks network rollouts and life at Discovery 5/11/2010 09:45:00 AM Eastern

Discovery's Peter Liguori
has his hands full in his new job. He is overseeing three new launches
(OWN, The Hub and a 3D network) and ensuring the continued growth of
the company's ID, Animal Planet and TLC nets. Liguori spoke about his
role with B&C Programming Editor Marisa Guthrie. An edited
transcript of that conversation follows. 

What's it like for you
being back in cable?

Peter Liguori of DiscoveryThe difference here [in cable]
more than anywhere is a focus in maintaining brand integrity. When you're
in the broadcast business, as much as we would like to think that there
is a big difference between a Fox show and an NBC show, I think that
difference has narrowed increasingly over the years. You can't get paid
for brand as much as you get paid for ratings there. We would all waver
from brand dogma to achieve higher ratings. Here, we would do nothing
to damage our brand.

If I had a choice between cheap
ratings for Discovery and maintaining the Discovery brand patina, and
how it's served affiliates and advertisers and audiences for its 25-year
history, I'd always play to the brand as opposed to a specific event.  

Are you saying Fox goes
after cheap ratings?

Now that I'm not there any
longer, no. Now, they're all quality all the time. But when I was there
with my high heels on street corners looking for ratings, quality meant

Do you have more autonomy
at Discovery? Do you feel like you're not expected to play politics?

With me, you're probably talking
about the wrong guy in terms of playing politics. I'm here probably
because I didn't play politics. And I've always felt that it's the job
of an executive to do right by the business and not right by [himself],
and very often, especially in this business, you have to make that choice.

What's so wonderful here is
that [Discovery Communications President and CEO] David [Zaslav] has
created a culture where people are celebrated for furthering Discovery's
mission. And so it does feel more like a team. There's a greater long-term
perspective in cable than there is in broadcasting, where you're living
day to day. 

What are your expectations
for OWN?

You have to temper expectations
while fanning the flames of ambition. It is very difficult to launch
a new network, and it is very difficult--even with the number-one brand
name in all of media with Oprah--to start and launch a network. So,
on a financial basis, you plan conservatively. Fortunately, Oprah is
incredibly engaged. She is looking at all pieces of programming.  

OWN was supposed to launch
in 2008, but hit some road bumps. Will it launch with a perception problem?

I certainly don't think it
had any perception negativity with the audience because the audience
hasn't been aware of when the date was going to be. If anything, it
gave the troops more time to hone their vision. With Oprah's talk show
winding down, it's going to give her more time to get involved. 

Defining a brand takes
time. Is Oprah's brand defined enough to translate to a niche cable

I think the answer there is
yes. There is a very specific psychograph that defines Oprah's brand,
and that Oprah's brand services. Bravo is clearly geared to the highest
echelon on the edges of the coasts; a very narrow brand. When you look
at Lifetime, that's a network that appeals to older women, based on
older ideals. Oprah's brand is way more populace. She speaks to women
in the interior of the country as well as on the coasts. And Oprah's
appeal is one that is psychographically highly defined.  

I know you're looking
for a CEO for the 3D channel. So, what's going on there?

No announcement yet. But it's
a big deal.  

The Human Planet
is Discovery's next big-event program, set to bow in about a year
and a half. Is that being shot in 2D and 3D?

No, that was shot in 2D. We
will see what and where we can upgrade from there.  

Has the success of
Planet Earth and Life inspired more major-event programming?

You have to do these shows.
You have to provide value to cable operators, events for the audience
and advertisers. And this is what Discovery does best. And that's one
of the things we're doing better and better, which is taking this programming
and not having [to wait] to have it pay off in the back end, but having
it pay off in the front end. It exports beautifully. We're able to monetize
it in every country that we're in. So, we're inspired to do more of
it because it's actually been quite efficient for us. 

Has there been a sea
change in the cable versus broadcast battle?

The difference between broadcast
and cable is getting narrower and narrower. We're almost in the same
number of homes. The audience perceives no difference in the quality
of the entertainment experience. And in fact, they might even have reverse
expectations, especially when you're dealing with a brand like Discovery.
And the only thing that's left is, can we eventually get that gap in
CPMs narrowed further? Time will tell.  

But don't you have to
get bigger audiences if you're going to narrow CPMs?

One, we are, and two, not necessarily.
If you are looking for brand awareness marketing a ubiquitously used
product, broadcast is a good deal. However, if you need to be more targeted
and more efficient with your buys, you go to cable. So, the expectation
and need for higher ratings, I think, is one that is felt more by presidents
of networks and reporters, and less so by marketers.  

The Hub is going up against
huge kids brands--Nickelodeon and Disney--with tentacles everywhere.
How do you distinguish The Hub?

When I look at what's going
on at Nick and Disney, [The Hub President and CEO] Margaret [Loesch]
has rightly pointed out that Nick and Disney have started migrating
toward an older tween audience and that The Hub will go after that opening
of the 6-12 audience, especially kids who watch TV with their families.
Secondly, that network is launching with great brand names, not only
the Hasbro name but the sub-names--G.I. Joe, Transformers, My Little
Pony, Strawberry Shortcake--and these brands are well known to the kid
audience and their moms. It's a very different kettle of fish than what
you're seeing on either Nickelodeon or Disney. Plus there still is a
great desire to have an underpinning of Discovery Kids programming,
namely programming that has quality and a message to be told there.

So, I do think there is a great
distinction. And also from a marketing standpoint, [we have] tremendous
synergies with Hasbro and its ability to market to kids and its great
brand extension as more than just a toy company, but also a media company. 

How will you program
the 3D network? Do you do 3D versions of Discovery programming? Will
you convert some programs from 2D to 3D?

You typically will shoot 2D
and 3D versions. But it's not one size fits all. For standard shoots,
you really just take your 3D camera and you put it on top of your 2D.
But if you wanted to maximize effect, for instance with spots, if you
were to use the highest camera position and put a 3D camera on top of
your regular 2D, you would not notice a dramatic difference. But if
I took that 3D camera and went down courtside, on the field or ringside,
you would notice a massive difference.

So, there will be a mix; there
will be some [programs] that we will upgrade. There will be some where
we will shoot both. And there will be some that will be 3D from start
to finish in that the whole production technique and the whole reason
for being is to make that experience as immersive as possible. I think
we have to offer a number of events on that 3D channel. They don't have
to be by night or by week; maybe they'll be by month at first, so that
people can really can enjoy and celebrate what the technology can do.  

TLC got a big ratings
bump from the Gosselins' breakup. Do you think TLC has successfully
capitalized on that?

I think [TLC President and
General Manager] Eileen [O'Neill] has truly honed the brand and its
strategy. It's wonderful to see how everyone on her team, from her head
of development to someone in accounts receivable, knows what that TLC
brand is. They took advantage of the new audience that Jon &
brought to the network. Currently the network has 15 shows
that have audience of more than a 1.0 household rating. I attribute
that to incredible vigilance on her part and a terrific gut. The GMs
are friendly competitors; ID is one of the fastest growing networks
out there. And we haven't begun to hit our stride on that. [ID] is a
network that is nearing full distribution. We're not there yet. But
clearly there's a huge audience appetite for it. We have great channel
position in New York, and that network rates off the charts when it
has a bit of awareness filling its sales.

[And] look at Animal Planet.
It is breaking month-by-month, quarter-by-quarter ratings comparisons.
And I give [President and General Manager] Marjorie [Kaplan] big credit.
She's taken the network from just being cuddly, fuzzy pets to discussing
the human stories.  

You seem happy in your
new gig. But do you miss the rough-and-tumble broadcast business?

I'm extremely happy in my new
gig. I love television. I love the creative energy that flows through
the halls of these companies. I love the strategic business challenge.
But after doing this for 20-odd years, what is really refreshing in
this gig is the quality of the people and the dedication to the mission
and the great calm and comfort that people have with that mission. You
know, you walk in the front doors here and people feel like they are
truly providing a service. They're trying to put quality content on
the air. And it attracts a specific type of person. David Zaslav is
an outstanding leader, an outstanding CEO and an incredibly smart and
likable guy.  


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