Discovery chief talks OWN

Zaslav confirms Oprah Winfrey network to launch Jan. 2011

NEW YORK -- Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav said Tuesday that Oprah Winfrey will have "a very meaningful presence" on network OWN, which will launch in January 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 every one 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 January 2011 as the latest target launch date for 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.

Zaslav left more specific announcements to Winfrey, given her role as chairman, chief creative officer and 50% 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 adviser on the network, along with OWN CEO Christina Norman, Zaslav told the conference.

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

Zaslav said the scatter market "is strong, and it's getting stronger." In fact, it has strengthened week-to-week in the current 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.