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Christina Norman is out as CEO of OWN (NSDQ: DISCA), the Oprah Winfrey Network, the victim of dissatisfaction over poor ratings for one of the most hyped launches in cable history. Peter Liguori, the COO of joint venture partner Discovery Networks, is taking the helm on an interim basis. The network, which launched Jan. 1, is a joint venture of Discovery Communications and Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. Discovery has at least $215 million in investment riding on the new channel, with plans to invest more. [Release below.]
The move is being spun as a switch from launch to execution, with an effort not to make it look like the highly regarded Norman is being replaced by Liguori. Norman was recommended by Tom Freston, her former boss at Viacom (NYSE: VIA), who has been an adviser on the new network. She came on
in early 2009, joining a project that already had seen some turnover and that encounter more. Last month, distribution head Alan Singer left to head programming for Charter (NSDQ: CHTR) Communications.
Former Fox exec Liguori came in late in the process, joining Discovery at the end of 2009, nearly a year after Norman. His involvement with OWN was expected, particularly given his strengths in growing new channels with FX as the prime example. The company says his immediate takeover of the network reflects a “more long-term focus on business and creative strategy, development and execution.”
Does it also reflect a power shift? Winfrey remains chairman but where Norman reported to her and the OWN board, Liguori keeps his day job as COO of Discovery Networks.
More to come.
PETER LIGUORI NAMED *INTERIM* CEO OF OWN: OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK
Discovery Communications’ Chief Operating Officer adds OWN Leadership Responsibilities Following Departure of Christina Norman
Los Angeles, CA and Silver Spring, MD – Peter Liguori has been named Interim Chief Executive Officer of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, it was announced today by Oprah Winfrey, Chairman of OWN, and David Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery Communications. The appointment reflects a transition from a launch phase to a more long-term focus on business and creative strategy, development and execution following the network’s debut on January 1, 2011.
Effective immediately, Liguori steps into the role held by Christina Norman, who led the successful launch of the multi-platform joint venture. In addition to his Chief Operating Officer (COO) responsibilities for Discovery Communications, Liguori will oversee the network as it continues building a slate of new and original content, including the October debut of Rosie O’Donnell’s new talk show ROSIE and the launch of OPRAH’S NEXT CHAPTER in early 2012.
“I want to thank Christina for her important accomplishments, incredible passion and many sacrifices in helping to launch the network,” said Winfrey. “With the final taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” only a few weeks away, I will soon be able to devote my full energies to OWN. This is a natural point of transition, and I am confident that Peter, as an integral part of the launch of OWN, will be a terrific partner for me going forward. He is one of the smartest, most creative executives in media, and I look forward to his leadership as we build our development slate and work toward the launch of OPRAH’S NEXT CHAPTER. Over the remainder of the year, Peter and I will work together to recruit a permanent CEO for OWN’s next phase of growth.”
“Joining OWN was a great opportunity, and launching it successfully and drawing more than 67 million viewers is one of my proudest achievements,” said Norman. “My thanks to Oprah and David for entrusting me with this brand and giving me the opportunity to launch OWN. As I move on to my next challenge, I am confident the strong foundation we have built will position the network to achieve great things.”
“Peter is Discovery’s creative leader, and highly qualified to assume the leadership at OWN for the next phase of growth,” said Zaslav. “Christina did a great job launching OWN with long-term support from both advertising and affiliate partners. Peter will now ensure that OWN reaches its full creative potential with great programming that delivers on Oprah’s vision, mission and brand.”
OWN debuted on January 1, 2011, and delivered double digit primetime increases across all key demos vs. Discovery Health a year ago for 1Q. Strong performing series include SEASON 25: OPRAH BEHIND THE SCENES, OUR AMERICA WITH LISA LING and THE JUDDS. Key upcoming series debuts include WHY NOT? WITH SHANIA TWAIN and FINDING SARAH, with the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson.
Among his primary responsibilities as Discovery’s COO, Liguori oversees Discovery’s interests in its joint venture channels, The Hub, 3net and OWN, as well as providing leadership for the company’s operational organizations, including Marketing, Discovery Studios, Corporate Communications and Corporate Affairs, Business Affairs, Research, Digital Media and Commerce, and Media Technology, Production and Operations. In addition to his operational role, he also oversees Discovery’s cross-company global Creative Council with a focus on maximizing the value of the company’s content, marketing resources and overall corporate assets.
Before joining Discovery in 2009, Liguori most recently served as president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company, where he was responsible for all Fox program development and marketing. Prior to assuming that position in 2005, Liguori was president and CEO of News Corp.’s FX Networks since 1998, overseeing business and programming operations for FX and Fox Movie Channel. Under his leadership, over a five-year period, FX grew from an emerging network reaching 39 million homes to a top-five basic cable network reaching more than 84 million homes and recording all-time highs in ratings and revenue.
Liguori joined Fox/Liberty Networks in 1996 as Senior Vice President, Marketing for a new joint venture, which now includes Fox Sports Net, FX, Fox Sports World, SPEED and National Geographic Channel. Prior to joining Fox, Liguori was Vice President, Consumer Marketing at HBO. He also held several positions in HBO’s Home Video Division, including Vice President, Marketing and Senior Vice President, Marketing, where his duties included the creation and implementation of marketing programs for all HBO Home Video product expansion and the development of its programming line-up.
Liguori also has experience as a producer of the widely acclaimed independent feature film, “Big Night.” Prior to HBO, he worked in advertising at Ogilvy & Mather and Saatchi & Saatchi.