Discovery’s No. 2 executive plans to leave
Discovery Communications Inc. Chief Operating Officer Peter Liguori is leaving the cable programming giant at the end of December after just two years on the job.
His departure comes at a key time for the company, as its high-profile ventures OWN and the Hub are struggling to establish themselves and its core networks Discovery and TLC face increasing competition from rival cable channels.
Liguori was considered something of a catch for Discovery. A well-regarded television executive, Liguori had helped make News Corp.’s FX cable network a strong player in original programming, with shows such as “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me.” He then moved to Fox, where he had a successful run as chairman of entertainment before being forced out in a restructuring.
Discovery is the parent of several cable networks — including Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet — and a co-owner of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN channel and Hasbro’s the Hub. The Maryland company, which had revenues of about $3.8 billion in 2010, wanted Liguori to boost its presence in Hollywood.
“He’s a great pipeline to the creative community … and we are not connected to that community,” Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav said at the time of Liguori’s hiring.
Liguori, 51, is the third senior executive to announce plans to leave Discovery in the last several months. Discovery Channel President Clark Bunting and Discovery Communications Chief Financial Officer Brad Singer are also leaving in 2012.
With a background primarily in the creation and marketing of scripted entertainment, Liguori seemed like a fish out of water at Discovery, whose networks primarily air documentaries and unscripted fare. Although his contract doesn’t expire until early 2013, there had been whispers inside Discovery and around Hollywood for months that Liguori was looking to leave. Liguori had initially moved from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to be near Discovery’s Silver Spring, Md., headquarters, but ended up spending most of his time here.
In a statement, Liguori called his stint at Discovery “incredibly rewarding.” Discovery said it has no plans to replace Liguori and is eliminating the COO position.
Liguori spent much of his time managing Discovery’s joint ventures, including OWN, the Hub and 3Net, a channel devoted to 3-D programming that counts Sony and Imax as co-owners.
OWN has proved particularly vexing. The women’s channel, whose stated goal is empowering its viewers with positive programming, has struggled to attract viewers since its launch in January despite investments of more than $200 million by Discovery.
In May, Liguori was tapped as interim chief executive of OWN after Christina Norman was forced out as head of the network. At that time, Zaslav said Liguori was the company’s “creative leader” and “highly qualified to assume the leadership at OWN for the next phase of growth.”
That phase lasted only two months. In July, co-owner Winfrey pushed Liguori aside and made herself the chief executive of OWN, then brought in two longtime staffers as co-presidents of the network. Liguori was agitated by Winfrey’s handling of the situation, people close to him said.
The team of Zaslav and Liguori was something of an odd couple. The tall and lanky Liguori is smooth and diplomatic, while Zaslav is more emotional and hard-charging. Interestingly, in his statement praising Liguori for his two years at Discovery, Zaslav referred to him as “Pete” when he is known throughout the industry as “Peter,” said several executives who have worked with him for years.
According to Discovery, Liguori’s contract has no non-compete clauses, meaning he is free to work at any other media company, even a direct competitor. Before joining Discovery and after leaving Fox, Liguori had served a consultant to Comcast as it prepared its takeover plan of NBCUniversal.
Liguori could not be reached for comment.