Discovery Communications CEO: Judge Success of Oprah's OWN Over 2-3 Years

Discovery Communications

"We have done a lot of things right, we have done a lot of things wrong," says David Zaslav, vowing that the network will keep listening to the audience as it firms up its brand.

NEW YORK - Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav told an investor conference here on Thursday that they should judge the success of OWN, the company's cable network joint venture with Oprah Winfrey, over two to three years rather than quarters.

"We have done a lot of things right, we have done a lot of things wrong," he said in discussing the network, which launched this year and has seen weaker ratings than many had expected.

"We are going to learn by the mistakes we are making and by the things that work," Zaslav told the Nomura U.S. Media Summit, acknowledging that his team is still trying to figure out the exact OWN brand. "So, I think you got to look at us over the next two to three years."

While the network brand will remain focused around leading the best life possible, "exactly what OWN will be" will depend on audience reaction, Zaslav said. "The audience is going to tell us," but "we are going to have to fall down a bunch of times," he added. Discovery Communications will continue to fund and support OWN and continues to like its hand, he emphasized though.

Christina Norman was recently replaced as OWN CEO by Discovery Communications COO Peter Liguori who agreed to take on the added title on an interim basis.

Zaslav on Thursday once again argued that it takes time to launch a channel as people must find two to three shows they like to include it in their eight to 10 networks they watch regularly. He also said that more programming will come to the network and that Winfrey has been recutting its programming library, which will come to OWN later this year.

Asked about the upfront advertising sales market, Zaslav said that given the ad market overall has remained "very strong," the upfront "feels very good." He said he expects "strong increases" in the upfront.

Asked about TLC, Zaslav said an attempt in the past to take the network more Hollywood and position it similar to Bravo failed, because the channel is really about middle America. Women who are 42, have two kids and work and want a good family life are at its core, he said. Yes, people in LA and New York like it. "But we're really programming that for Middle America," Zaslav said.

Asked about his firm's digital strategy, Zaslav said amid new technologies and new players, it is a great time to be a content company. But he said Discovery will want to get paid properly for content value it provides.

For example, he said TV distributors' TV Everywhere initiatives that offer content online require the company's consent. As a result, Discovery will "have a value discussion about it" once online audiences are properly measured, Zaslav said.

Twitter: @georgszalai