Entertainment Industry

Category: Oprah Winfrey

David Zaslav is Discovery's $52-million man


Discovery Communications Chief Executive David Zaslav might have had a rocky year in 2011 -- his joint ventures OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network and the small kids' network HUB stumbled badly -- but the struggles didn't affect his compensation.

Zaslav's 2011 pay package, which included salary, stock, options and other perks, was valued at $52.4 million -- more than 20% over the 2010 level of $42.6 million. 

The large package propels Zaslav into the upper stratosphere of media compensation, and makes him among the highest paid executives in the nation.

In comparison, Robert Iger, chief executive of the much larger Walt Disney Co., collected a $31.4-million package last year. Viacom Inc.'s Philippe Dauman last year received $43 million (considerably less than Dauman's 2010 compensation of $84.5 million). Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes took a slight pay cut last year, collecting $25.9 million.

Zaslav's base salary was nearly $3 million.  His stock and option grants were valued at $44 million, according to the company's proxy filed late Friday.  Some of the options were allocated in 2008, when Discovery's stock was trading at below $20 a share.  On Monday, Discovery's shares traded around $51.

A Discovery spokesman said 90% of Zaslav's compensation was due to stock appreciation.

In the proxy filing, Discovery said it had a strong year financially, with revenue climbing 12% to $4.2 billion. Net income from continuing operations jumped 75% to $1.1 billion.

But there were setbacks. Wall Street analysts have been discounting the value of OWN. Some are questioning whether the company will write down the network's book value this year.

Discovery, which owns 50% of OWN, has invested more than $312 million in the channel. Winfrey owns the other 50%.

Winfrey on Monday conceded that OWN has been trickier than she had anticipated during an appearance on "CBS This Morning."

According to Discovery's filings, its other highly compensated executives included founder and Chairman John Hendricks, who received a package valued at $8.9 million; Chief Financial Officer Bradley E. Singer, whose compensation was valued at $4.2 million; and Mark G. Hollinger, president of Discovery Networks International, whose compensation topped $5.5 million.  Former Chief Operating Officer Peter Liguori, who left Discovery at the end of the  year, received $4.8 million.

Discovery declined further comment.

Oprah's success hasn't followed her to OWN

Oprah Winfrey acknowledges her OWN mistakes

OWN cable network to cut jobs, replace executives

-- Meg James  

Photo: Partners Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications Chief Executive David Zaslav toast their joint venture OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.  Credit: Robin Layton / OWN


Oprah Winfrey acknowledges her OWN mistakes

Oprah Winfrey said Monday that her cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network, has been a much tougher slog than she expected.

"Had I known it was this difficult, I might have done something else," Winfrey said during an appearance on "CBS This Morning" with Charlie Rose and Gayle King, who is Winfrey's best friend. 

"I didn't think it would be easy, but if I knew then what I know now, I might have made some different choices," Winfrey said.  "If I were writing a book about it, I could call it '101 Mistakes.' "

PHOTOS: 25 great "Oprah" moments

Rose asked Winfrey to name five miscalculations. The top mistake, Winfrey said, was that OWN launched in Los Angeles in January 2011, well before the network was ready. At the time, she was consumed with wrapping up her hugely successful syndicated talk show in Chicago, which taped its finale last May.  Winfrey said she advocated for a small launch of the channel, without much press or promotion, but soon the publicity machine had kicked in and the expectations for the channel soared to lofty levels.

OprahDiscovery Communications Inc., which owns 50% of OWN, has spent more than $312 million to get the struggling channel off the ground. The channel has been averaging fewer than 300,000 people in prime-time, according to ratings agency Nielsen. 

"It was like having the wedding before you were ready, and walking down the aisle saying, oooh, should we really be doing this?" Winfrey said. 

"But the invitations were out," chimed in King, who ditched her daytime talk show on OWN last year for the much bigger platform of CBS News.  (Winfrey later in the interview said she was thrilled that King, who has been her friend for more than 25 years, was given the opportunity at CBS).

Winfrey said it was "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels who told her that she "had no idea" what she was getting into, and that building a new channel would be difficult. Some people would be rooting for her to fail.

For the first time in many years, the press surrounding Winfrey has been decidedly negative. Co-host Rose said that was a departure from previous press coverage: "You've been so loved, such an icon, you could do no wrong." 

There have been days, Winfrey conceded, that she was ready to throw in the towel. She said she would have been happy to sit under a tree with her beloved dogs and read a book.  Those days were more frequent, she said, particularly in the last week as the bad press mounted. But Winfrey said that she is more encouraged by OWN's prospects and direction than she ever has been before. 

Television's former daytime queen was in New York to tape a live episode of "Oprah"s Lifeclass: The Tour" at Radio City Music Hall and, later in the week, for advertiser presentations. Unlike four years ago, Winfrey said doesn't expect to campaign heavily for the reelection of President Obama. Instead, she will be busy "trying to fix a network." 

"I'm a very driven person," Winfrey said. "I believe that I am here to fulfill a calling. That, because I am a female, who is African American, who has been so blessed in the world, there is never going to be a time to quit. I will die in the midst of doing what I love to do — that is, using my voice and using my life to try to inspire other people to live the best in theirs."


Oprah's success hasn't followed her to OWN

OWN cable network to cut jobs, replace executives

Oprah says she will devote more time to overhauling OWN TV channel

 — Meg James

Photo: Oprah Winfrey at a Discovery Channel gathering in 2011. Credit: AP Photo/OWN, George Burns

Layoffs and restructuring at Oprah Winfrey's beleaguered OWN channel

Oprah Winfrey's OWN is struggling
Weak ratings and a poor financial performance have led to layoffs and yet another executive restructuring at the Oprah Winfrey Network, the cable channel co-owned by Winfrey and Discovery Communications.

OWN, which last week finally canceled its high-profile Rosie O'Donnell talk show, said it was laying off 30 staffers and bringing in executives from Discovery Communications to oversee key operations.

The move comes as OWN continues to struggle to find its voice. Launched in January 2011, OWN has already cost Discovery more than $300 million. The channel's performance has been so weak that there has even been speculation, denied by insiders at the network's parent companies, that if the situation doesn't improve soon the plug could be pulled. 

"We're as committed now as we've ever been and are bullish about the long-term value we are building," Discovery Senior Executive Vice President David Leavy said Monday.

“It is difficult to make tough business decisions that affect people’s lives,” said OWN Chief Executive Winfrey in a statement. "The economics of a start-up cable network just don’t work with the cost structure that was in place," she said, adding, "to wholly achieve that long-term success, this was a necessary next step.” Winfrey was at OWN's Los Angeles headquarters Monday to address the staff about the changes.

As part of the restructuring, Discovery Communications will have more say in the business operations. Initially, Discovery had something of an arms-length policy when it came to OWN.

However, as the losses have piled up and the executive suite of OWN started to resemble a revolving door, Discovery decided it needed to step up and become more involved in the channel's operations.

"The cost structure was not sustainable; we had to right-size that," said Leavy.

In January, Discovery dispatched Rita Mullin, a longtime Discovery programmer, to help shore up programming at OWN. Now, as part of this restructuring, Neal Kirsch, Discovery's chief financial officer of its U.S. Metworks unit, will shift to OWN and become its chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

Discovery is also bringing in executives to oversee production and marketing for OWN.

The changes come just two weeks before OWN is scheduled to begin making its upfront programming presentations to advertisers in Chicago, New York and, later, Los Angeles.


OWN cancels low-rated Rosie O'Donnell talk show

Oprah Winfrey launches new show amid continuing struggles

Winfrey names herself CEO of OWN

-- Joe Flint and Meg James

Photo: Oprah Winfrey at the Sun Valley conference in 2011. Credit: Julie Jacobson / Associated Press.


The Morning Fix: More trouble at OWN! Netflix on rebound?

After the coffee. Before another long day in court.

The Skinny: Hollywood makes being a lawyer seem so glamorous, but watching the Golden Globes trial for a few days will clear that image right up. It's hard work and long hours and lots of standing and no coffee allowed. I don't know how they do it. Thursday's headlines include more trouble at OWN, how electronic voting is coming for the Oscars, and a look at this year's Sundance "It" girl.

Oprah Winfrey's OWN network is struggling

The Daily Dose: One question still not answered in the aftermath of Lion Gate's plans to merge with Summit Entertainment is what happens to the latter's deal to sell its movies to HBO. Lions Gate is a partner in Epix, a smaller pay cable channel that competes with HBO. Summit signed a five-year deal with HBO that starts next year. People familiar with the matter think Summit will not try to break the contract with HBO since it is guaranteed revenue for its movies. Still, down the road it may get tricky to determine what (besides a "Twilight" movie) qualifies as a Summit movie that should go to HBO.

Will the last one leaving OWN turn out the lights? OWN, the cable network started by Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications, continues to struggle both on air and behind the scenes. On Wednesday, Lisa Erspamer, a top production executive at the network and a longtime member of Winfrey's inner circle, was shown the door, the latest in a string of high-profile departures at the network. Meanwhile, the talk show starring Rosie O'Donnell, which was OWN's big and expensive bet, is generating no heat in the ratings. O'Donnell has gone rogue off air, canning much of the staff of ex-Winfrey workers and abandoning the glitzy and expensive set that was built for her show in favor of a much smaller set that looks to me more like something one would see on a cheesy cable access channel. The details on Erspamer's abrupt departure and OWN's other headaches from Deadline Hollywood.

Some good news for a change. Netflix saw its subscriber and revenue numbers grow in the fourth quarter of 2011, which led investors to push the company's stock price up 13% in after-hours trading. However, profits were still off 13% compared with the fourth quarter of 2010. A look at the numbers from the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal.

Going electric. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is moving ahead with plans to launch an electronic voting system and do away with paper Oscar ballots for its members. Fear not, those accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers will continue to be in charge of counting the votes. The Hollywood Reporter says the move could have "far-reaching implications" for awards season.

Katie's comeback. Former "Today" and "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric was down in Miami earlier this week meeting with television executives at an industry convention to promote her new talk show, which debuts this fall. Couric is banking on the vacancy created by Oprah Winfrey's departure from daytime. USA Today chats with Couric on what her show will be like.

Trading Martha for Marie. Hallmark Channel, which is dropping its association with lifestyle diva Martha Stewart, is close to a deal with Marie Osmond that will see the former teen star host a show for the cable channel, says the New York Post.

Inside the Los Angles Times: Gina Rodriguez is this year's Sundance "It" girl. It's a high-profile gig but it doesn't always turn into a long-term career. After threatening to close down, the motion picture nursing home is going to stay open and add new patients.

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter: It's where we pretend to know each other. Twitter.com/JBFlint

Photo: Oprah Winfrey. Credit: Prakash Singh/AFP.

OWN Presidents Logan and Salata are in it for long haul

Given all the drama and hype surrounding OWN, it is sometimes hard to remember that the cable network launched by Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications has been on the air for just over 10 months.

"We are not even two minutes into the first quarter here," said Erik Logan, one of OWN's two new presidents, over coffee at the network's Los Angeles headquarters earlier this week. "It really is a smart thing to keep your head down," added Sheri Salata, OWN's other president.

Keeping its head down was not OWN's strategy when it launched Jan. 1. Of course, given whose name is on the channel, the idea of a low-key debut was probably a pipe dream anyway.

The story of OWN's first year has been fairly predictable so far. The channel got strong sampling from curious viewers lured by heavy hype when it premiered. A few weeks later, few had stuck around. There was turmoil behind the scenes as several of the shows tanked and Christina Norman was bounced as chief executive of the channel in early May.

Winfrey, who said she had been too focused on ending her daytime talk show to worry about how OWN was doing in its early months, assumed the role of chief executive in July and tapped Logan and Salata, who had been running Winfrey's Harpo Studios, to oversee the day-to-day operations of OWN.

Logan and Salata, who have worked together for just over three years, accept that, like it or not, OWN is being scrutinized far more than just any new cable channel.

"We knew that Oprah Winfrey starting a network would be watched closely; whether it's fair is for others to decide," Logan said. He and Winfrey have met with key advertisers including Procter & Gamble to assuage any concerns about the channel's performance.

One of the myriad challenges for OWN is Winfrey's desire to put on positive and inspiring programming in a cable world where it is often the trashiest that succeeds. Salata managed to pull that off when she was executive producing Winfrey’s daily show, but she acknowledged that being “on brand and proud and still wildly entertaining” 24/7 is a little trickier.

Furthermore, while trying to be empowering is a noble goal, viewers don't necessarily want to be preached to by their televisions.

"We can’t put a lectern up and turn on a camera,” said Salata.

Continue reading »

TCA 2011: Oprah Winfrey is here, and in charge at OWN

Oprah Winfrey Oprah Winfrey, the new chief executive of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, wanted to make one thing perfectly clear:  She is in charge. 

Walking on stage Friday morning at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills, Winfrey told a room full of writers that she gave herself the title of chief executive.  Winfrey stepped into the role earlier this month following the ouster of OWN's first chief executive, Christina Norman.

She and Discovery Communications Inc., her partner in the venture, wanted to hit the reboot button after the channel's bumpy start. They also wanted to give Winfrey the opportunity to populate the ranks with executives she felt comfortable with, those who had worked for her on her Chicago-based syndicated show.

It is her network after all.  Discovery Communications owns only 50%. 

"I'm here," Winfrey said Friday, noting that she was not relaxing on sugar-soft sandy beaches on some Caribbean isle. That big vacation she was going to enjoy after bringing her syndicated show in for a successful landing in May after 25 years on the air?  Well, it didn't happen.

Instead, she is going to work at her network located on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

"I'm in the office, and at home, listening to budget meetings, and marketing meetings and talking about how to strategize and make his network everything that we know that it can be to fulfill the potential of the vision," Winfrey said.  She introduced the latest two executives to join OWN from her company, Harpo, in Chicago: Sheri Salata and Erik Logan.  The pair are now presidents of OWN.

"My focus now is on getting to know and understand our viewers," Winfrey said. 

She announced the "Oprah Winfrey Show" library, all 4,561 episodes, would be repackaged and run weeknights at 8 p.m., beginning this fall, under the title "OWN Your Life (the Oprah class)."  

The idea, she said, came to her while she was standing at her kitchen window.

"This is a dream come true for me, having this platform," she said. "I want to embrace the idea of having the world's biggest classroom. Do that in a way that was not just throwing [my] shows up in the air.  We're going to take the 4,561 shows and use them as a teaching tool, repackaged and rehosted by myself in ways that we can teach people how to live their best lives."


Oprah Winfrey Network CEO Christina Norman ousted 

Oprah says she'll devote more time to overhauling OWN TV Channel

Oprah Winfrey leaves, daytime TV may never be the same again

-- Meg James

Photo: Oprah Winfrey speaks at the 2011 Summer Television Critics Assn. press pour in Beverly Hills. Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images.

Oprah Winfrey to take CEO post at OWN

OprahStory2 Oprah Winfrey has decided that if you want to get the job done, you better do it yourself.

The former daytime talkshow queen has named herself chief executive and chief creative officer of OWN, the cable network she launched in partnership with Discovery Communications. The announcement was made early Wednesday morning.

The move comes just over two months after Christina Norman was forced out as CEO of OWN in a management shake-up. Norman, who exited only four months after the channel made its debut, was OWN's third head since its formation was announced in 2008.

“I am ready to dedicate my full creative energy and focus as the full-time CEO of OWN," Winfrey said in a statement.

Since Norman left, Peter Liguori, the chief operating officer of Discovery Communications and a former top executive at Fox Broadcasting, had been serving as interim CEO.

Also taking top positions at OWN are two of Winfrey's trusted lieutenants. Erik Logan and Sheri Salata, currently presidents of Harpo Studios, Winfrey's production company, will now serve as presidents of OWN.

“The announcement of Oprah, Erik and Sheri completes the plan for developing a strategic creative track and finding the right management team to execute on that plan going forward,” said Liguori.

Winfrey's channel, which went live in January, has struggled to build ratings despite hundreds of millions spent on programming and promotion. Winfrey recently has acknowledged that she was not as focused on OWN as she should have been because it was launched while her daytime talk show was wrapping up its final season.

-- Joe Flint


Winfrey and Discovery need to be patient with OWN

Discovery CEO acknowledges stumbles in launch of OWN

Norman out at OWN

Photo: Oprah Winfrey. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press.

Discovery CEO acknowledges stumbles in launch of Winfrey's OWN

Discovery Communications Chief Executive David Zaslav acknowledged there have been stumbles in the launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network but remains optimistic that the right mix of programming will be found and ratings will follow.

ZASLAV Speaking at the Nomura investment conference, Zaslav said that to be successful, "we're going to have to fall down a bunch of times" and listen to the viewers.

"We can't say what the OWN brand is, the audience is going to tell us," Zaslav said.

OWN, a joint-venture between Winfrey and Discovery, launched Jan. 1. Initial ratings were very strong, but after the novelty wore off audiences quickly drifted away. Behind the scenes there has been a lot of executive shuffling. Most recently, Christina Norman was pushed out as chief executive of OWN and Discovery Chief Operating Officer Peter Liguori was brought in to oversee the network until a new head can be found.

One of the challenges for OWN has been Winfrey's own level of commitment. She has acknowledged that her focus on the end of her daytime talk show distracted her from the day-to-day operation of OWN. Of course, the flip side is that Winfrey is a forceful presence and now that she will be more engaged it will be interesting to see how she and her partners at Discovery work together.

OWN has said it wants to do inspirational programming, but unfortunately that has proven to be a hard sell to viewers, who have been conditioned to watch tawdry reality fare.

One valuable asset for OWN will be Winfrey's library of old shows, which it will have access to starting in the fall.

-- Joe Flint


Winfrey and OWN need to be patient

Shake-up at OWN as Christina Norman steps down

Photo: Discovery CEO David Zaslav. Credit: Associated Press

Liguori's contract gets sweetened for taking helm of OWN

With new responsibilities comes new money.

LIGUORI Peter Liguori, the Discovery Communications chief operating officer who earlier this month added the title of interim chief executive of the Oprah Winfrey Network after the abrupt departure of Christina Norman, has restructured his employment agreement with the cable programming powerhouse. OWN is the cable network co-owned by Winfrey and Discovery that launched Jan. 1.

Under his amended deal, Liguori will get at least $250,000 and as much as $500,000 in bonuses in 2011 for his performance at OWN. Liguori's base salary is $1 million.

Liguori, who had taken an apartment in Washington, D.C. to be near Discovery's Silver Spring, Md., headquarters, will also get $60,000 from the company for his expenses there because he now is spending practically all of his time in Los Angeles, where OWN is based. Discovery will also pay $2,500 for Liguori to move his belongings back home. Good thing he never unloaded his house here.

-- Joe Flint


Norman out, Liguori in at OWN

Photo: Peter Liguori. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images.



Winfrey and Discovery need to learn a little patience with OWN


Just 10 days before the Jan. 1 launch of OWN, the cable network co-owned by Discovery Communications and Oprah Winfrey, Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav told the Los Angeles Times he knew the network would not be a hit from Day One.

"We recognize it's going to take awhile to find a voice," Zaslav said, stressing the need for patience with the cable network.

Apparently "take awhile" meant five months.

NORMAN2 On Friday, Discovery and Winfrey announced that Christina Norman was out as chief executive of OWN. The former president of MTV, Norman was brought in by Winfrey and Zaslav to OWN in 2009 to figure out just what the Winfrey voice was. She replaced Robin Schwartz, the first head of OWN, who was shown the door when she too apparently couldn't find Winfrey's voice.

To be sure, the ratings for OWN are pretty dismal. The network's first day drew lots of curious people, but they soon went back to their old viewing habits. The only show to really click at all with viewers is a behind-the-scenes look at Winfrey's last season as a daytime talk show host. Overall, the network is averaging about 300,000 viewers in prime time and 150,000 in total day.

That was to be expected. A channel is not going to be a huge success out of the gate no matter whose name is on it. Winfrey of all people should know this given how long it took Oxygen, another cable network she was involved in, to find its footing.

The challenge for Winfrey and Discovery is they want to provide inspiration to a cable television audience that thrives on desperation. For example, this Saturday OWN is launching "Extraordinary Moms," which the channel's website said, "explores the power of mothers, featuring courageous, brilliant and awe-inspiring women who share a powerful connection: the love they have for their children combined with a fierce desire to protect the future of all children."

It sounds nice, but there is probably a lot more action in an episode of "Jersey Shore." Also premiering soon is "Becoming Chaz," a documentary about Chaz Bono, the offspring of Sonny and Cher who had a sex change operation and is now a man. Again, uplifting and politically correct, but unlikely to bring in millions of viewers.

LIGUORI To get the numbers Discovery and Winfrey want, they are going to have to get dirty. It worked for Bravo. A channel that was once about high art and culture now gets rich off of pathetic housewives. History Network long abandoned history in favor of ice road truckers, whatever they are.

If that is not what Winfrey and Discovery want, then OWN should stick to the high road of feel-good programming with a liberal bent and recognize it will take more than a few months to build a loyal following.

The rub though is that Discovery and Winfrey want the channel to be a huge financial success. Discovery has pumped north of $200 million into OWN and it is charging many distributors north of 20 cents per subscriber, per month to carry the network. Those distributors are not going to be happy paying that much for a channel struggling to outperform C-SPAN.

Christina Norman is taking the fall for OWN's early stumbles. If she was not the right person for the job, Discovery and Winfrey had almost two years before the channel's launch to come to that realization.If they believed in her lineup, then they should have stuck with her and figured out how the channel can bring in more viewers who are tired of the reality sleaze that fills most cable networks. There must be a few million folks out there somewhere who would like that.

Now in the OWN hot seat is Peter Liguori, Discovery's chief operating officer. He will serve as interim chief executive during the search for a permanent replacement. Liguori has a strong track record of success. He played a key role in overhauling News Corp.'s FX, which now has a reputation for cutting-edge programs. From there he went to Fox Broadcasting, where he also delivered until he was squeezed out in a power shift at the company.

A charmer, Liguori knows how to schmooze talent. He managed to keep Paula Abdul happy and functioning on "American Idol" for years, which is no small task. He'll need those skills to balance the needs of Winfrey with those of his bosses at Discovery.

It won't be pretty.

-- Joe Flint

Related Post: Norman out as president at OWN

Photos: Top: Oprah Winfrey. Credit: Kiichiro Sato/AP. Right: Christina Norman. Credit: Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times. Left: Peter Liguori. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images.


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