NEW YORK - After a long stint at News Corp., where he was president of entertainment at Fox Broadcasting and before that president and CEO of FX Networks, Peter Liguori joined Discovery Communications this year as chief operating officer.
The Hollywood Reporter recently talked with him about his plans for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), kids channel the Hub and whether a Sarah Palin-narrated Discovery documentary about Alaska presents a marketing challenge.
IN WHAT FORM WILL VIEWERS SEE OPRAH ON THE NETWORK?
Liguori: Oprah knows her name is on the door. She would not have done this unless she was going to put her personal imprint on this. She is the chairman of the network, so she sees everything that gets produced. In terms of her on-air presence, she is going to really be -- noticeably -- on the network. She will do her next talk show, called "Next Chapter," which will be on the air three or more days a week. It will be different from her studio show and more intimate for her, more personal. She has done a show, "Master Class," in which she (picks) political or social or cultural icons who have influenced her and really haven't had that kind of one-on-one dialogue (to talk about themselves). She is also opening herself up to her own reality show, which is behind the scenes of her (talk show's) 25th season. I've got to give her credit for a lot of courage there because producing daily television is an adventure, and to do it with cameras rolling ... there will be an unvarnished look at how that show is produced.
HOW STRONG IS THE OPRAH BRAND?
Liguori: She is the female equivalent of the NFL. She is bringing her rabid, fervent audience to cable. I'll give you an example: She has "Your OWN Show," where we will search for the next great talk show host. She got more than 140 million votes for that just through the Internet -- we are not on the air yet.
BUT CAN ONE PERSON CARRY A WHOLE NETWORK? MARTHA STEWART'S PROGRAMMING BLOCK ON HALLMARK CHANNEL STARTED SLOWLY.
Liguori: Martha is a personality; Oprah is a way of life. Oprah's intention is for everyone she touches to live their best life. That's the programming strategy. It's not Oprah 24/7; it is lead your best life 24/7. That can accommodate anything from Oprah talking about doing her next talk show to following Sarah Ferguson rebuild her life to outstanding documentaries, which challenge you to think. It is her life philosophy that fuels the network, not just her personality.
THE HUB, THE KIDS-NETWORK JOINT VENTURE WITH HASBRO, LAUNCHES OCT. 10. HOW DO YOU MAKE IT STAND OUT AGAINST NICKELODEON, CARTOON NETWORK AND DISNEY XD?
Liguori: First, (CEO) Margaret (Loesch, who worked with Liguori at Fox) has identified a bit of white space in the kids marketplace. Nick and Disney have grown really robust businesses by going after girl tweens, and that's a great market. Margaret is going after the younger boy -- middle-aged, if that term can exist. Two, we go toe-to-toe on branding. Discovery partnered with Hasbro, which means Transformers, G.I. Joe, Monopoly and Strawberry Shortcake. And third, we can create programming that leads in and out of other characters and stories that can become new robust businesses for us. It won't be easy, but we have a strong strategy and leader.
HOW WILL YOU MARKET DISCOVERY'S ALASKA DOCUMENTARY NARRATED BY SARAH PALIN? SHE IS A POLARIZING FIGURE.
Liguori: Discovery has always been very successful (with marketing), but very modest. "It's OK to be noticed," is what I have been trying to preach. Indifference is the death of content. What do you do to compel and capture and create conversation in a way that's valuable? I have focused more on the philosophical than the tactical approach, although tactics have come out of it. We took "Life" and made the big, bold move of premiering it across all of our networks and did the biggest (ratings) number in the last 10 years. Something like Sarah Palin? She is one of the most compelling figures on Earth. So, why not? I'm trying to be more than anything a bodyguard for our programmers' and marketers' best instincts.
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