Broadcast and cable television veteran Peter Liguori last week was named chief operating officer at Discovery Communications. The former Fox network executive will oversee marketing, the Discovery Studios production wing, business affairs and other administrative departments for the company. He replaces Mark Hollinger, who was named president and CEO of Discovery Networks International. Liguori spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about his recent appointment.
MCN: Your new position at Discovery will bring you back to the cable industry for the first time since leaving FX several years ago. Did you miss working on the cable side?
Peter Ligouri: I did. One of the great things cable affords you is the ability to focus on the long-term health of brands, when you know that 50% of your income is coming from distribution. It allows you to think about long-term plans and helps you predict what your income is going to be.
It’s not a night-by-night, week-by-week business — it’s more of a long-term play, and you focus more of your energy on building brands. Over the course of my career, I’ve always looked at businesses through the eye of a marketer, and cable really plays to that strength.
MCN: How do you translate cable’s strengths into your new position as Discovery’s COO?
PL: I think you make the transition knowing first and foremost that you have a great leader in [Discovery Communications CEO] David Zaslav. He’s got his eye on the ball and he’s pushing the business forward. From my standpoint, being a marketer, he’s done it while maintaining the integrity of the brand, which is good for the long haul. David’s instincts as a marketer and programmer are first-rate, and I believe that I bring a little science to that as someone who’s very, very excited about the portfolio.
MCN: Where do you see Discovery’s two high-profile startups — the Oprah Winfrey Network and the Discovery/Hasbro kids’ service — heading as they ramp up to launch?
PL: I’m going to be spending the next 30 days just looking under the hood, so I really haven’t spent much time at either company. I’ve spoken to [OWN CEO] Christina [Norman] and I look forward to speaking to Oprah and speaking to [network CEO] Margaret [Loesch] on the Hasbro side as well. Needless to say, my mindset is to give Oprah and Christina the resources, space and energy for them to do what they do best — they know the Oprah brand, they know Oprah’s audience and they know the expectation and the mission. As far as I’m concerned, on that front I’m there to facilitate accelerate and maintain focus. With Margaret, the key there is creating children’s programming which maintains Discovery’s integrity and tells good story and creates great characters.
MCN: You will also oversee Discovery’s Content Committee. How hands-on will you be in developing content for the various Discovery channels?
PL: I’ll clearly be involved in that, but what works well at Discovery is that it’s always a team decision. Those GMs and their respective heads of programming are incredibly intimate with the audience and with the brands that they work on. What I hope to add is a new flavor and new perspective, and probe to see if there are different ways for us to develop and make sure we’re exploring the upside of these tremendous brands.
MCN: Will you look to bring in more high-profile Hollywood writers and producers to accomplish those goals?
PL: The task at hand is really avoiding the scripted vs. nonfiction delineation. The talent that L.A. has is about storytelling and character creation talent, and I’ve always been stunned by sitting down with various show creators, directors and writers and realizing just how much passion they have in the world of nonfiction. More than anything, I would like to afford them the opportunity to commit that to film and articulate that on Discovery because they’ll do that in a manner that’s highly entertaining. Every one of the shows in Discovery’s portfolio that have really broken out follow the basic tenants of scripted shows: great stories, high stakes and good characters. There are a lot of people in [Hollywood] who can do that on a nonfiction basis.
MCN: Will you also be involved in Discovery’s international operations?
PL: Yes. It’s truly a growth area and my hope is to make sure there’s maximum integration between what’s going on domestically and what’s going on overseas. David and I are planning on some trips to work with Mark [Hollinger] to find out what his needs are and to make sure that he’s fully locked and loaded when he goes on to tackle new missions overseas.