Ford to Head Discovery


Looking to return Discovery Channel to its place as the “marquee brand in cable,” Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav last week handed the network’s keys over to former National Geographic Channel executive John Ford.

The move unseats Discovery Channel and Science Channel general manager Jane Root, who resigned last week and will return to her native England. Root was hired in 2004 by former Discovery Networks U.S president Billy Campbell, who himself was ousted by Zaslav in February as part of a major company reorganization.

Next up for Zaslav: find an executive to head the Science Channel.

Zaslav is counting on Ford, who returned to Discovery Communications three months ago to head up Discovery Times and Military Channel, to improve on the flagship network’s already strong ratings and viewership fortunes. In November, the network averaged a 0.9 prime time household rating and 1.18 million viewers, up 13% and 18% respectively from the same period in 2006, but well short of the 2.3 rating and 2.9 million viewers of industry leader ESPN.

“We’ve come a long way to re-establishing Discovery’s brand as a real powerhouse, but I think Discovery can be even bigger and stronger and be the marquee brand in cable,” he said.

Root joined Discovery in 2004 after heading the United Kingdom’s BBC2 network and was behind some of the network’s most successful shows including American Chopper and Dirty Jobs.

But Zaslav said he believes Ford, who came back to Discovery Communications in September after leaving in 2003 to become National Geographic Channel’s executive vice president of programming and production, can take the Discovery Channel brand to the next level.

“The minute I came to Discovery I wanted to bring Ford in … I’ve known him for 20 years and I think he’s probably the best non-fiction programmer I’ve come across,” he said. “I think he’s the right guy at the right time to take Discovery to the next level.”