Ford to Lead ION Programming

Nearly a year after Discovery Channel showed him the door, veteran cable network executive John Ford has resurfaced as president of programming for ION Media Networks.

In his new role, Ford will oversee all aspects of ION’s content activities, including acquisitions and the exploration of developing original series. He’ll also be responsible for scheduling and creative strategy.

At present, ION’s schedule is devoted to off-net acquisitions, including the drama skeins Without a Trace, Criminal Minds, NCIS and The Ghost Whisperer. Among the comedies on the ION roster are M*A*S*H and My Name is Earl.

The bulk of ION’s programming day is given over to paid programming.

Based in New York, Ford will team up with Marc Zand, who assumes the new role of executive vp, content acquisitions and digital networks. Having most recently served as ION’s executive vp, digital networks & business affairs, Zand will oversee the network’s series and movie acquisitions, reporting to Ford. He’ll also continue to steer the digital properties Qubo and ION Life.

Ford left Discovery in December 2009, after a two-year stint as president and general manager of the flagship network. He was replaced by longtime Discovery Communications hand Clark Bunting, who assumed oversight of Discovery Channel and Science Channel.

Outside a four-year hiatus (2003-2007), during which he was executive vp, programming at National Geographic Channel, Ford had spent the better part of 20 years at Discovery. Shortly after joining the company in 1989, Ford took the reins at TLC as its senior vp, programming and executive vp and general manager, serving in that capacity until 1999.

He later put in time as president of new media for Discovery Networks U.S., where he launched the company’s first high-definition service, Discovery HD Theater.

ION’s move to land Ford suggests the network is serious about ramping up its programming efforts. Financially, it is now in a position to invest in original programming, having recapitalized its debt a year ago. Brandon Burgess, CEO of Ion Media Networks, suggested as much in a statement he made when announcing the hire.

“John’s seasoned experience brings a whole new creative perspective to ION, including his background in acquisitions, unscripted reality content, major events and co-productions,” Burgess said. “All these content sources are on the table as ION builds on its momentum and looks to extend its television franchise in the years to come.”

From October 2009 through September 2010, ION grew its overall sales-prime deliveries 72 percent to 1.01 million viewers, per Nielsen, while improving 74 percent among adults 25-54 (450,000).