Another top lieutenant of Discovery Networks' old guard is calling it quits. This time, it's 13-year veteran John Ford, who stepped down last Thursday as president of new media.
Ford was in the position for less than a year. Prior to that, he was Discovery's chief programmer as president of the U.S. content group. He moved over to new media when Billy Campell arrived last spring as the new president of Discovery Networks U.S.
As new-media chief, Ford presided over the launch of Discovery's high-definition service, Discovery HD Theater. "There is no problem with what I'm doing that is causing me to go," he said. "I've done five different jobs in 13 years, and there is a time to move on."
After former Discovery President Johnathan Rodgers exited last March, some industry executives had expected Ford to get his spot. Instead, it went to Campbell, a former CBS executive.
Over the years, Ford also helmed TLC and Discovery Health. Relaunching TLC remains one of his finest memories. "We were in 15 million homes, and the programming vault was empty," he recalled. "Eventually, TLC went from being an unknown to one of the top brands."
Ford says he has no concrete plans but would like a job that combines creative and business elements. Discovery plans to fill the new-media position in the coming weeks.
Discovery has lost a string of other executives over the past two years: TLC GM Jana Bennett; husband-and-wife team Michael Quattrone, head of the Discovery Channel, and Kathy Quattrone, general manager of Discovery Health; and Charley Humbard, head of digital networks.
So far, on Campbell's watch, the Discovery Networks show mixed results. TLC boasts one of cable's hottest shows in Trading Spaces, which helped push TLC's prime time rating up 11% to a 1.0 rating last year. Several new lifestyle shows, including a remake of cheeky BBC hit What Not To Wear, join the schedule soon.
But flagship Discovery Channel is not holding up as well, with ratings off 17% in 2002. Campbell is still looking for a signature series for Discovery. Monster Garage,
a boy-oriented vehicle-makeover show, has performed reasonably well, but its ratings shrivel in comparison with Trading Spaces
or even Spaces' TLC companion While You Were Out.
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