Peter Liguori to Leave Discovery at Year’s End

Departs after two-year stint

Two years after joining Discovery Communications as its No. 2 executive, COO Peter Liguori is packing it in. The veteran programmer and marketer will leave Discovery at the end of the year; moreover, his position will be eliminated upon his departure.

While Discovery did not offer an explanation as to why Liguori was leaving the company, his departure was widely anticipated. In the last several months, Liguori has spent a good deal of his time away from Discovery’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., preferring instead to work from Los Angeles.

Given his background—he was chairman of entertainment at Fox Broadcasting for five years and served as president and CEO of FX from 1998-2005—Liguori is one of the most sought-after executives in television. That said, observers believe he’s likely to hang up his own shingle in L.A., establishing a production imprint for scripted series/films.

Liguori is the third key Discovery executive to announce he’s moving on, joining the ranks of high-level defectors Brad Singer (chief financial officer) and Discovery Channel president Clark Bunting. A 27-year Discovery mainstay, Bunting was one of the company’s first hires.  

Upon joining Discovery in January 2010, Liguori was charged with overseeing the company’s joint ventures, including the kids-and-family startup The Hub and OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. In May, he stepped in as interim CEO of OWN after Christina Norman was dismissed from her post.

Winfrey in short order appointed herself head of the network, taking day-to-day oversight of OWN operations off Liguori’s plate. Yanking the rudder out of Liguori’s hands may prove to have been a fatally short-sighted decision.

Discovery has poured more than $250 million into the joint venture, which has failed to make a splash with viewers. In the third quarter of 2011, OWN averaged just 213,000 viewers in prime time, making it the 53rd most-watched channel on the cable dial. Women 25-54 accounted for just 35 percent of OWN’s Q3 deliveries, while women 18-49 made up less than a third of the network’s nightly audience.

Both target demos saw double-digit declines in the quarter, as women 25-54 fell 11 percent to 74,000, and women 18-49 were down 15 percent to 67,000. Adults 18-49 plummeted 20 percent to 89,000, per Nielsen ratings data.

As has been a hallmark of his career, Liguori took the high road, characterizing his tenure at Discovery as “incredibly rewarding.” In a brief statement, he thanked Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav for “the opportunity to stretch new creative muscles in the nonfiction space.”

Discovery last week reported its Q3 earnings, notching a 19 percent lift in revenues at its U.S. networks group. Ad sales dollars were up 6 percent versus the year-ago period, to $322 million. Through the first nine months of 2011, Discovery has improved ad sales revenue 8 percent to $973 million.