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NEW YORK – With Oprah Winfrey and her Harpo team having taken the reins at joint venture cable network OWN, she is “committed and working hard” to make it successful, outgoing Discovery Communications CFO Brad Singer reiterated at an investor conference on Thursday.
With Winfrey and her Harpo team in charge after several leadership changes last year, there is a “complete alignment,” and Discovery feels that OWN is going in a “good” direction, he told the Citi Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference in San Francisco. “It’s just hard work building any network,” he added in echoing the company’s previous calls for patience with OWN.
After an originally expected break-even this year for OWN, the company recently said that the network will continue to see losses over the near-term. Singer didn’t detail when they are likely to end or how high losses will be until then. But he told investors that OWN’s financial performance will mostly be impacted by its audience delivery.
Asked about his impending departure and the recent exit of COO Peter Liguori, Singer said “the company is in great shape,” and Discovery has a “pretty deep, experienced bench” of executives. “For me personally, it was time to move on,” he explained, adding that he wanted to leave when the company was doing well.
Discussing the U.S. advertising market, Singer said it is “still in very good shape.” Visibility in the first quarter is “pretty good,” he said, even though visibility has been weaker at the end of recent quarters without really impacting ad numbers.
Asked about the cable network company’s 2011 ratings, Singer said they were up around 3 percent overall in a flat market. Discovery had a “very good” fourth quarter, while TLC had tougher comparisons with a year-ago Sarah Palin series.
The Discovery CFO also faced questions about digital content deals. A Netflix deal has shown that Discovery’s most popular TV shows aren’t necessarily the most popular shows online, he said.
If digital distributors paid the same amounts that pay TV operators pay for suites of networks, would Discovery be willing to do deals with them? Singer told the Citi conference that the company in evaluating deals mainly doesn’t want to disadvantage existing clients. He added that it isn’t clear that virtual operators would get the kind of financial returns they are seeking in broad network carriage deals.
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