Tercek Out As OWN Digital Head; Vision Differed From CEO’s Plans

Robert Tercek

His LinkedIn profile still says president of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Digital Network but paidContent has learned — and confirmed with the company — that Robert Tercek is no longer with the new network. Tercek was a high-profile digital hire for the network, which is supposed to be multi-platform, in late 2008 — several months before CEO Christina Norman came on board. When I asked for Tercek at the Discovery booth during the Cable Show, I was simply told he wasn’t around. Turns out he hasn’t been around for weeks although his official last day was May 14.

Tercek is credited with leading the successful relaunch of Oprah.com last January. Web designer and Napster alum Glenn Kaino, hired by Tercek for the redesign, is the top digital exec now as SVP-Creative reporting to Norman; hiring an operational head is next.

What does this mean for OWN’s digital ambitions? Some clarity, to start.

The two had very different visions about where to go digitally: Norman was focused on a more integrated approach and getting the most out of existing assets as the network heads to its Jan. 1, 2011 launch, while Tercek was focused more on expanding digital. In part, it’s the result of the odd system OWN started with: presidents for television and digital but no CEO. It’s also part of what happens in startups: visions change, particularly when a new CEO comes in, and often people leave. Tercek’s counterpart on the TV side, Robin Schwartz, left soon after Norman joined and her position of president of television was eliminated. Tercek’s title will be retired, too.

Tercek was hired to manage digital for Oprah.com, still based in Chicago, and LA-based OWN, responsible for content, marketing and building out a social networking presence. Norman was hired to launch a successful network across platforms. In an interview this afternoon, she didn’t want to talk about any differences with Tercek – stressing an amicable split — but as she talked about her own goals some of it became clear. “We need to refine the focus of our digital business around three pillars: the 25th and final season of the Oprah Winfrey Show, the launch of OWN and O magazine content.” To succeed, OWN has to retain that syndicated audience and build on it as it heads to the launch, then keep it as engaged as possible. To do that, it needs more integration and a better sense of how all of the elements support each other.

The MTV Networks (NYSE: VIA) vet knows what it’s like to work in a company where digital exists as a silo. “It’s something a lot of media companies struggle with, you need people with expertise in the digital realm but there also needs to be a smarter way in the way this brand is being launched, a much more collaborative approach of how digital and programming work in support of the brand. Nobody can afford to work in a silo anymore.” This is especially important for OWN “because we are built around a brand.” Advertisers don’t care about the show or web, she added, before ducking into another client meeting. “They want to reach Oprah’s audience.”

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