Discovery reports Q4 profit hike

New COO Peter Liguori shares vision of company future

NEW YORK -- Peter Liguori is only weeks into his job as Discovery Communications COO, but he already feels strongly about the appeal of its brands and the company's global potential.

Liguori made his first appearance Wednesday on one of the cable network company's quarterly earnings conference calls and shared some of his early thoughts.

The former News Corp./Fox TV executive told analysts he has only been in his new job for a little more than three weeks, but likes what he has seen so far.

"Discovery is extremely well positioned," he said, citing its "strong brands" and "diversified" business.

His job working with the company's networks will be to help them with "refining and accelerating their audience appeal and their brand entitlement," he said.

Liguori particularly cited "the global appeal of Discovery and TLC," as well as further upside at Animal Planet and Science Channel, which gets tremendous attention in the creative community as seen in Steven Spielberg's recent agreement to produce a documentary series for it, Liguori said.

He also said there was big opportunity in the early stages of development of new networks OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network and The Hub, a kids network joint venture with Hasbro.

Asked to explain in more detail the international opportunity of Discovery's channels compared with News Corp.'s, Liguori said Discovery is "at an advantage," because non-scripted content has "no international boundaries" and translates "flawlessly."

Both Liguori and president and CEO David Zaslav said on the call that they want to make Discovery "a great content company."

Discovery reported a fourth-quarter profit increase driven by higher advertising and affiliate fee revenue.

The cable networks company on Wednesday posted a quarterly profit of $155 million, compared with $106 million in the year-ago period. Revenue rose 7% to $964 million

With 2010 up and running, "we remain focused on further monetizing our ratings momentum in an improving advertising environment, continuing to strengthen our distribution platforms" and content, said Zaslav. He emphasized that Discovery outperformed its peers in a tough economy last year.

On the conference call, Zaslav said he and his team continue to focus on developing programming and distribution for OWN, set to launch next year, and The Hub, set to launch later this year.

Management said scatter advertising prices were up 15%-25% across the various Discovery networks in the fourth quarter, with the first quarter trending slightly ahead of that.