Discovery’s Zaslav: ‘Meaningful’ Future for Oprah on Cable

Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav said here Tuesday that Oprah Winfrey will have “a very meaningful presence” on network OWN, which will launch Jan. 1, 2011.

He also said that newly hired COO Peter Liguori will help the company define its cable network brands more clearly and market them better.

“He is a great marketer,” Zaslav said at the annual UBS Global Media & Communications Conference. “He’s going to work with us on…what each and everyone of our brands is when they are at their best.”

Instead of putting on content for pure short-term ratings, “to succeed, we really need to figure out what our brands are,” he said. “That’s why TLC faltered a year and a half ago” after it had used too many star-driven vehicles.
Zaslav also confirmed Jan. 1, 2011 as the latest target date for the launch of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, and said Discovery is gearing up to collect higher subscriber fees than the 15 cents per sub the network currently gets in its iteration as Discovery Health.

“She’ll have a very meaningful presence on the network,” he said about Oprah’s involvement, leaving more specific announcements to her given her role as chairman, chief creative officer and 50 percent owner. But he highlighted that she has also a lot of on-air talent she has developed, most of which he expects will be on OWN, too.

“She’s spending a lot of time with me and Tom Freston” who is an advisor on the network, along with OWN CEO Christina Norman, Zaslav told the conference.

“We expect that Oprah is going to skew more female,” he said about likely demographics. That said, Animal Planet started out as 60 percent female, but breakout shows have tilted male, which has moved the demographic split to about 50:50, according to Zaslav.

Asked about the advertising market, Zaslav said the  scatter market “is strong, and it’s getting stronger.” In fact, it has strengthened week-to-week in the current fourth quarter.

“We are really encouraged,” he summarized. “On the other hand, advertisers really continue to be hesitant to commit longer-term. Visibility remains limited.”

If positive trends continue as he hopes, things will be good, but the recovery could also come to a sudden end, Zaslav said.

Nielsen Business Media