Zaslav says strong team in place for OWN

Oprah Winfrey Network set to launch before 2010

NEW YORK -- Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav told investors that his partnership with Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Prods. on OWN is "the big swing" for the pure-play cable channel.

"We think ... that theme, 'living your best life,' could be very strong," Zaslav said Wednesday morning during Discovery Communications' presentation on the third and final day of the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in Midtown Manhattan.

Zaslav said that there was a strong team in place to help change the Discovery Health channel to OWN. Winfrey will be chairman of the network, which Discovery will create with Harpo and contribute the first $100 million in funds. The launch is set for sometime by the end of 2009, Zaslav confirmed afterward.

He had spent some time Monday with Winfrey discussing the network, though he didn't give further details. He said he was pleased that Winfrey had contributed to the venture, which would help. But Zaslav said that OWN was more than just Winfrey, who topped 2008's THR Power 100 List as the most powerful woman in Hollywood. She selected the name OWN, and it's meant to mean more than her.

"It's not Oprah. It's OWN. It happens to stand for the Oprah Winfrey Network, but it's about your challenges, your strengths, your weaknesses, your own life," Zaslav said.

Meanwhile, Zaslav reported that another female-skewing channel owned by Discovery -- TLC -- has seen improvement since the summer. It had been down 30% in the ratings in July compared with a year ago, and that was unacceptable.

"Part of that was being candid with each other about the team and the content we were putting on the air," Zaslav said.

He said that its previous hiring of a "very L.A. entertainment programming group" thought it would grow by putting more mainstream, Bravo- or E!-like programming like dance and singing contests. But Zaslav said that the channel's audience was more middle America, more interested in family values than flashiness.

"We were pretty slow to figure out that that wasn't what our audience was interested in," Zaslav said.

Zaslav said that it's hard to give visibility into the advertising climate in 2009, though he said that a pure-play cable company like Discovery is well prepared to weather any storms due to its dual revenue stream.

"It's fantastic when things are good and it's very strong and very sturdy when things are not so good," Zaslav said about the cable business.

But it's not necessarily looking for acquisitions.

"We've got a good footprint in digital," he said after the presentation. "I feel we're not missing much."

Georg Szalai in New York contributed to this report.