Less than two months after being named president and CEO at Discovery Communications Inc. and just over a month on the job, David Zaslav today announced a major shake-up of its senior corporate ranks that will see a number of top executives leave the company, including Discovery Networks U.S. president Billy Campbell, who was passed over for Zaslav’s new job and whose position is being eliminated.
Zaslav, who was named DCI’s top executive on Nov. 16, also handed walking papers to Animal Planet EVP and GM Maureen Smith, who was hired by Campbell and promoted in November to head up Animal Planet Media, which will now be overseen by Marjorie Kaplan in her new supersized role as president and GM of Animal Planet Media and Discovery Kids Media, which she previously ran as EVP/GM.
Len Tacconi, president of Discovery Health Media Enterprises (who was hired in September and oversees Discovery Health, FitTV and related properties) now reports to Zaslav, as does Discovery Networks ad sales president Joe Abruzzese (a former CBS colleague of Campbell, who brought him to Discovery) and affiliate sales and marketing president Bill Goodwyn. Discovery Education (including its online "homework helper," Cosmeo) president Steve Sidel now reports to Goodwyn.
TLC’s president and general manager David Abraham is leaving DCI at the end of March to return to the UK, where he will become CEO of digital broadcaster UKTV. With kids in school, Abraham left his family behind in England when Campbell hired him in Feb. 2005, as did Patrick Younge, who was then named EVP and GM of the Travel Channel. Younge was promoted to run Discovery Travel Media, a new unit, last April.
Younge now reports directly to Zaslav, as does fellow BBC alum Jane Root, whose title changes to president and GM of the Discovery Channel with added responsibility for the Science Channel. A search is under way for an executive to take over TLC.
Today’s corporate shuffle leaves five U.S. network brand groups: Discovery Channel (Root); TLC (GM TBD); Discovery Travel Media (Younge); Animal Planet Media/Discovery Kids Media (Kaplan); and Discovery Health Media Enterprises (Tacconi).
Root gives up oversight of a third network, the Military Channel, which moves into DCI’s new Emerging Networks Group (where the top executive slot is open) to house its smaller channels. Besides Military—which is repositioning itself to become the "voice of the troops" according to USA Today—the new ENG unit will include Discovery Times Channel (whose former head, Vivian Schiller, last year joined the New York Times to run its website), Discovery Home Channel and Discovery HD Theater.
Discovery veteran Clark Bunting was promoted to lead Discovery Studios, a new unit that houses the Discovery Production Group; Discovery Films; Discovery Creative Resources; and a short-form content unit known as Preditor by company insiders. Zaslav lauded Bunting’s long track record at DCI, where his most recent title was EVP of Discovery U.S. Networks reporting to Campbell.
Discovery Networks International president Dawn McCall was ousted to make room for Greg Ricca, a former MTV Networks International COO, who will become president and CEO of DNI.
DCI’s well-liked human resources head, senior EVP of HR Pandit Wright, got pink-slipped and is being replaced in the top HR spot by Adria Alpert-Romm, who worked with Zaslav at NBC Universal as head of HR at NBC TV Entertainment and News.
Mark Hollinger was upped from senior EVP-corporate operations and general counsel, to president, global businesses and operations. Hollinger adds oversight of Discovery Commerce (whose president, Frank Rosales, now reports to him) and Discovery Networks International to his plate, with Ricca also reporting to him.
Not surprising given his previous role leading distribution at NBCU’s TV networks and owned content, Zaslav announced a move into syndication of Discovery networks’ owned TV product. Joel Berman, former president of worldwide television distribution for Paramount Pictures and CBS/Paramount, has been retained by Zaslav as a consultant to explore "how to best monetize our library and develop what can be be an aggressive syndication strategy for Discovery’s content domestically and around the world."
Veteran Wall Street media analyst Tom Wolzein was also hired as a consultant to help Discovery’s senior management on an "overall global growth strategy and how to better clarify the company’s opportunities in digital television, the internet and new media platforms."
Not mentioned in today’s release:
• the U.S. Hispanic Networks Group (run by Luis Silberwasser)
• Discovery New Media, which loses Discovery HD Theater to the new Emerging Networks Group
• two channels owned by BBC Worldwide—BBC America and BBC World News—that DCI distributes in the U.S.
• Roger Millay, who was hired as CFO in September from Airgas, Inc.
Today’s press release didn’t mince words about the sweeping nature of the re-organization, which reunites Zaslav with some long-time trusted associates (Wolzein, Berman, Ricca and Alpert-Romm) while streamlining management and pushing brand growth (particularly in the digital and new media arena) out to his lieutenants.
"These changes are substantial," Zaslav commented. "The goal is to maintain Discovery’s leadership as the number-one nonfiction media company in the world, while clarifying responsibilities, improving financial performance, and ultimately creating more shareholder value."
The announcement said the executive shuffle was based on Zaslav’s three-part mandate for DCI going forward, which was outlined in the release as:
• Build Strong Brands. "As consumers have more and more choice, we must reinforce and clarify the positioning of all our brands. There is no question that the Discovery Channel is the company’s primary asset. But we have a tremendous portfolio with some of the most valuable brands in the world."
• Create a Lean and Aggressive Organization. "Creating a lean and aggressive organization that fosters a real performance culture is vital to our success. The objective is to push authority and accountability down across the company."
• Lead in New Media and Brand Extension. "Building cable channels and enhancing their performance is not enough in this competitive marketplace. We need to focus on leading in new media and ‘building out’ our entitlement for each brand. This includes creating new brand extensions and finding new distribution platforms for our content."
The word "lean" in point #2 would naturally raise fears of layoffs, particularly in an organization of more than 5,000 employees in 170 countries. Still, Alpert-Romm, as new head of HR, will be busy placing candidates in a number of key roles.
Besides searching for execs to run TLC and the Emerging Networks Group, Zaslav plans to hire "a senior business manager, similar to a chief operating officer, for each of the network brand groups" to give more responsibility to each of the U.S. network groups, which were previously centralized under Campbell.
Zaslav is also searching for someone to lead business development. "This role will centralize the operations of the corporate business development activity and lead the team devoted to analyzing and determining the growth priorities for DCI’s global assets. As the [network brand group] General Managers focus on building new media extensions for their brands, the head of business development will centralize, at the corporate level, the planning for acquisitions, joint ventures, and other potential partnerships in the digital and new media space."
Today’s shake-up at DCI HQ in Silver Spring, MD (where Zaslav is moving his family after the school year ends) comes a day before his old shop, NBC Universal, is expected to announce Jeff Zucker as president and CEO of NBCU. He is replacing Bob Wright, who is expected to stay on as vice-chairman for a transitional period after Zucker takes the reins later this spring.