Two Discovery Execs Departing

Longtime Discovery Networks veterans John Ford and Bill McGowan said last week that they will move to new jobs. Ford, the ex-programming chief, is defecting to a Discovery rival, the National Geographic Channel, as executive vice president of programming. Sales executive McGowan will leave to start his own company.

Ford was introduced to Nat Geo President Laureen Ong by another former Discovery executive, now-Fox Cable ad sales chief Bruce Lefkowitz. Ford was intrigued, he said, because he'll be arriving as "the channel is poised to move from an emerging network to fully distributed status."

Nat Geo, now in about 45 million homes, is jazzing up its original fare with more-entertaining non-fiction programming like Worlds Apart, a reality show that sends an American family to live like locals in a far-flung locale. And Ford, with his Discovery pedigree, is a good match.

The challenge for a programmer at Nat Geo or Discovery, he says, is to take the "real world and translate that experience into powerful, compelling television."

A 14-year Discovery vet, Ford left the company in February, six months after Billy Campbell was tapped to be president of Discovery Networks U.S.

Ford had been head of Discovery's content group, overseeing programming and production for its stable of channels. When Campbell arrived, Ford transitioned to president of new media, where he launched Discovery's HD Theater high-def channel.

With Ford steering programming, "we will be a force," predicts his new boss, Ong. She plans to spend more time on strategy and building distribution.

Discovery has weathered a string of executive departures in recent years. In March 2002, former company President Johnathan Rodgers jumped ship. At the network level, several executives have left in the past two years.

McGowan will join the parade at the end of the year, when he will leave to start his own sales organization, McGowan Communications LLC.

Famous in the cable industry for his annual upfront predictions, McGowan is Discovery Networks' executive vice president of ad sales. That made him the cable group's top salesman until Campbell lured Joe Abruzzese away from CBS last fall to be Discovery's president of ad sales.

In his new venture, McGowan's first client will be Discovery. He'll handle the company's paid infomercial programming and its direct-response advertising, calling the efforts "Discovery Direct."