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Major Shake-up at Discovery

Just three months after he was named President/CEO of Discovery Communications , David Zaslav is cleaning house, ordering a sweeping reorganization that does away with Discovery Networks President Billy Campbell, and a slew of other senior managers.

Discovery Networks International President Dawn McCall, Human Resources chief Pandit Wright, and a couple of channel presidents are out, while marquee company outsiders, including analyst Tom Wolzien and former Paramount syndication chief Joel Berman, have been retained as consultants.

Zaslav, who decamped the senior ranks of NBCU to join Discovery in November, informed company employees of the changes this afternoon with a bluntly-worded, multiple-page internal memo entitled "Positioning Discovery for Growth: A Message from David Zaslav."

He detailed those executives'fates under a three-pronged plan to "build strong brands," "create a lean and aggressive organization," and "lead in new media and brand extension." As part of the plan, he has eliminated Campbell's position altogether, organizing network general managers into five branded groups that will report directly to him.

“We really want to create a fast and lean organization that can take advantage of the great assets Discovery has and build on those,” Zaslav told B&C, calling Discovery’s previous management structure “centralized.”

“And in order to build those, we’ve got to get really strong creative brand leaders and really give them a chance to have them be empowered,” he said.

Campbell's departure isn't a big surprise. It was widely speculated Campbell would be leaving the company if he didn't get the President/CEO slot that went to Zaslav.

Ad Sales and Affiliate Sales and Marketing Presidents Joe Abruzzese and Bill Goodwyn keep their jobs, but now report to Zaslav. They had reported to Campbell.

Also remaining is Discovery Channel President/GM Jane Root, who has overseen a recent ratings resurgence at the channel and will now oversee the Science Channel with Discovery as the first of the five network brand groups. Staying as well is Travel Channel chief Pat Younge, who will head the second group as President/GM of Discovery Travel Media.

Out in the shuffle is TLC President/GM David Abraham, who will leave Discovery in March after two years to take a new job in  the UK, while the company looks for a replacement to head TLC, the third branded group. Also out is Animal Planet General Manager Maureen Smith, who will leave the company. Marjorie Kaplan is being promoted from heading Discovery Kids to President and GM of Animal Planet Media and Discovery Kids Media, the fourth group. Len Tacconi stays as President, Discovery Health Media Enterprises, the final branded group.

While the heads of the five groups will oversee production, marketing, new media, communications and research - with support from ad sales and business development - each will be assisted by a senior business manager, similar to a Chief Operating Officer. The company is searching for candidates for those slots.

Zaslav plans to meet with the new division heads in the coming months to determine the employment structure under each, but declined to say whether he was looking to cut any specific number of people.

“We’re focused on growing our brand and making our services stronger and investing in new growth initiatives and part of that is going to be reinventing the company a little,” he said. “We’re taking a look at all of our costs – in new media business and other areas – to reorganize money and help drive growth within the company.”

Discovery will also look to fill a new position, head of Business Development, tasked with centralizing at the corporate level acquisitions and partnerships in the new media space.

Assisting in those moves will be at least two big-name consultants. Tom Wolzien, intimately familiar with Discovery board member Liberty Media after running Sanford Bernstein's media practice, will advise the company on its global growth strategy. Joel Berman, who last headed syndication for Paramount Pictures and CBS/Paramount Television, will advise on syndication strategy.

Two new divisions are being formed, Discovery Studios and Emerging Networks Group.

The former will encompass the company's production, films, creative resources, and short-form content groups and will be headed by company veteran Clark Bunting. The latter, likely inspired by NBC U's group of the same name, will include Discovery's smaller digital channels - the Military Channel, Discovery Times Channel, Discovery Home Channel and Discovery HD Theater. The company is looking for a head of that group.

Executive VP, Operations Mark Hollinger - also floated as a CEO possibility pre-Zaslav - is being promoted to head a new Global Businesses and Operations division, adding oversight of commerce and international departments. Out is Discovery Networks International President Dawn McCall, a 20 year company veteran, and in her place as President/CEO of the division is Greg Ricca, who was last CEO of MTV International from 1996-2003.

 In two other big changes, Human Resources Senior Executive Vice President Pandit Wright is leaving the company. In her place is Adria Alpert-Romm, who last led HR for NBC TV Entertainment and News.
Separately, Discovery Education President Steve Sidel will keep his position but will report to Goodwyn, now President, Domestic Distribution and Enterprises.

"The goal is to maintain Discovery's leadership as the number-one nonfiction media company in the world while clarifying responsibilities, improving financial performance and ultimately creating more shareholder value," Zaslav wrote in the memo, characterizing the changes as "substantial."

After his appointment in November, Zaslav praised Discovery's executive team to B&C when asked about any possible reorganization.

After a lengthy search, Discovery announced Zaslav as President/CEO in November. He left NBC U as head of Cable and Domestic TV and New Media Distribution and replaced Discovery's outgoing CEO Judith McHale, who officially left Dec. 1.