David Zaslav: Make Digital Revenue Meaningful

Discovery's New CEO on DVRs and Owning Content at UBS

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Another day of New York media conferences, another lunch with a newbie. After Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman -- Tom Freston's successor -- told the Credit Suisse crowd yesterday of his plans to increase digital revenue, David Zaslav, newly installed CEO of Discovery Networks, presented similar hopes for his new position across town at the UBS media conference.
David Zaslav, the new CEO of Discovery Networks, said 'People haven't changed the way they watch TV.'
David Zaslav, the new CEO of Discovery Networks, said 'People haven't changed the way they watch TV.'

"We need to create a great opportunity to reach users on all platforms," Mr. Zaslav said at today's keynote presentation, his first public outing since it was announced last month that he would leave NBC Universal. "If Bravo can't figure out how to be a place to go for hip, cultural content, someone else is going to figure it out in their garage. ... We need to make digital revenue meaningful."

Cheerleader for DVRs
Mr. Zaslav is also a rare TV industry proponent for digital video recorder players, having served on the TiVo board since his NBC heyday. "Everyone thought it was a huge threat to us, but it made us smarter," he said. A consumer may record an episode of "The Office" one night and skip ads, but that in turn could also motivate the user to catch the show the next time it airs on its regular time slot.

"People haven't changed the way they watch TV. There are so many more channels out there, but they're still only choosing from about 14. If you're an advertiser and you're one of those 14, you can own that viewer," he told the investor crowd.

Having spent his last year beefing up NBC.com through the development of iVillage, webisodes and iTunes partnerships, Mr. Zaslav's integral strengths for Discovery lie in his ability to innovate programming across platforms.

"Our style is the same as every other content company -- each part is another bite of the apple. It's a great opportunity to meet new advertisers," he said. "The toughest thing is if you don't own your own content. That puts you in a static position. That's what is satisfying about Discovery -- you can take it around the world, across different platforms and have a special outcome."

Bad timing for dream job
Mr. Zaslav doesn't make the move to Discovery's Silver Springs, Md., digs until January, so his looming departure from NBC was a frequent topic of discussion. "I had a great run," he said of his 18 years with the broadcast network. "For me, I thought NBC was going to be my home. I'd been working with John [Hendricks, founder and chairman of Discovery] on the TiVo board, and he called me up this summer to see if I'd be interested [in heading up Discovery]. It was a dream job at the wrong time."

That time quickly freed up by year's end, when Mr. Zaslav finally offered credence to weeks of rumors with the announcement he would succeed Discovery CEO Judith McHale. Coupled with the departure of Randy Falco, his move was deemed a sign of trouble for NBC by outsiders but not by President Jeff Zucker, who spoke of the matter at yesterday's Credit Suisse conference. Mr. Zaslav agreed with Mr. Zucker and spoke highly of his soon-to-be-ex-boss.

"He's a great person to work for, and we're both addicted to our Blackberries," he said. "He has great vision and is a great leader. NBC does have terrific bench strength."

Needless to say, NBC will always be in his heart -- or, in the case of today's panel, on his lapel. He proudly wore a peacock logo pin during his hour-long speech.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that John Malone, of Liberty Communications, had approached Mr. Zaslav about the Discovery job. In fact, the person who broached the topic was Discovery Founder and Chairman John Hendricks.
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