Discovery Rolls the Dice


At first blush, it seems like an odd progression for an executive to be moving from a consumer-electronics maker, Sony, to become the top marketing official at a cable-programming fiefdom, Discovery Networks U.S. But Ken Dice doesn't think it's too much of a stretch.

Last week Dice, a marketing and advertising veteran of both Sony Electronics Inc. and Leo Burnett Inc., was named executive vice president of marketing for Discovery Networks. As such, Dice will become the guardian of what is arguably one of the most powerful brands in the world, Discovery Channel, as well as the 13 other networks in the programmer's stable.

Dice, who joins Discovery on Dec. 1, most recently served as senior vice president of consumer marketing for Sony Electronics in Park Ridge, N.J. In that slot, Dice was responsible for all of Sony's U.S. consumer-marketing efforts.

Consumer Guidance

At Sony, Dice said one of his tasks was guiding the company to become more consumer-oriented. That's also one of the things he'll focus on at Discovery.

"Sony is a company that's been very product-centric for a long time," Dice said. "It's lived and died off of what the individual engineers create.

"We've worked over the last two or three years to move from a product-centric perspective to more of a consumer-centric perspective, meaning: 'Don't worry so much about what we make, but let's worry about what the people that like Sony want from it.' "

Dice said Discovery president Billy Campbell, to whom he will report, and Judith McHale, president and chief operating officer of Discovery Communications Inc., were both intrigued by this notion of finding out what consumers are seeking from the Discovery networks, "so they become not just television brands, but lifestyle brands as we move forward," Dice said.

While Discovery's TLC has been doing very well in the ratings, the mothership Discovery Channel has been rather stagnant. For example, in the third quarter the Discovery Channel was flat at a 1.0 household average in primetime and a 0.5 in total day, according to Nielsen Media Research data supplied by the ABC Cable Networks Group.

Asked which comes first — the successful brand or successful programming — Dice said it's a symbiotic relationship.

"What creates successful television and what builds successful television brands is successful television programming," he said. "And the thing that will bring more awareness and a wider perspective and a wider audience to actual programs — whether those are launches or sustaining series — will be the power of the brand."

He added, "The great area for exploration is what is the right balance between large-branded-network opportunities and small-program-entertainment spikes."

Dice replaces Chris Miller, who left Silver Spring, Md.-based Discovery this summer to move back to New York City.

Abruzzese Attachments

Dice got connected with Discovery through Joe Abruzzese, the former CBS Television Network ad sales chief who was recruited as Discovery's president of ad sales by Campbell. Dice has known Abruzzese since early 1990. At that time Dice, was at Leo Burnett, where he worked the McDonald Corp.'s ad account.

After Abruzzese joined Discovery, he set up a meeting between Dice and Campbell. Months later, this summer, Dice said that Campbell approached him about the marketing job.

Discovery's big project next year is relaunching The Health Network as FitTV.