Discovery's Got a New Manager, a New Brand and a New Ad Model

John Ford to Helm Discovery as Company Creates Investigation Discovery

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NEW YORK ( -- The times they are a-changin' for Discovery. It's got a new general manager, a new name for one of its networks and new ad model.
John Ford
John Ford

Jane Root, president-general manager of Discovery Channel and the Science Channel, left the company to return home to the U.K. That news came a day after the Discovery Times Channel announced it was adopting a new name, Investigation Discovery (or ID for short) starting Jan. 27, to reflect the departure of former editorial partner The New York Times last year. At the head of all the change is John Ford, the new general manager of Discovery and former general manager of the entity which just had its name switched.

Customized spots
Also in the works is a unique ad model for ID. Mr. Ford said the network will work with its marketing partners to create customized spots to "reveal the truth about their products."

The programming is already engaging, he said, so the goal will be to get viewers to stay with the network a long time with cross-media packages, including a robust new website.

In his previous roles at Discovery, Mr. Ford helped launch and expand networks like TLC, Discovery Health Channel and HD Theater. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has said that one of his major initiatives since coming to the company in January was to bring Mr. Ford back to Discovery (he spent the last four years as exec VP-programming at National Geographic Channel). He succeeded in September by bringing Mr. Ford on to run Discovery Times and the Military Channel, which will both announce new management in the coming weeks.

"John Ford is one of the best programming and operating executives in the nonfiction space, and having known him for more than a decade -- he is the perfect executive to lead Discovery Channel into the future," Mr. Zaslav said.

Owns HowStuffWorks
Mr. Ford's appointment represents the latest in a series of significant changes to the Discovery Channel. Last month, the network acquired HowStuffWorks for $250 million to beef up its web content and also add an additional 3.9 million visitors to its monthly user base. Earlier that month, the network revealed a new logo and on-air look to reflect its efforts to target younger men with shows like "Deadliest Catch," "Man Vs. Wild," "Dirty Jobs" and "Last Man Standing." So far, the shift appears to be paying off, with ratings up 18% in November vs. the same period last year and a lowering of the prime median age from 41 to 37.

Mr. Ford spoke with Ad Age the day before his new gig was announced, to discuss the changes at Discovery Times.

Expected to reach 52 million homes by next year, the network formerly known as Discovery Times has gained ratings momentum recently, increasing its total day household ratings by double and triple-digit intervals for the last 11 months.

Mr. Ford said while the Times was on-board as the network's editorial partner, the content had already started to take a more investigative focus, leading to the name change. "We decided that going forward we wanted a new name that transmits the investigative flavor of the channel," he said. There are no current plans for any editorial partners to take the place of the Times, Mr. Ford added.

Another name-changing net
The name change follows Turner's Court TV announced plans to change its name to TruTV on Jan. 1. TruTV is expected to take a more general crime-and-investigation approach to programming. Mr. Ford said his primary consideration was to give the ID network a more established identity, independent of what Court TV or any other network was working on. Nor does he expect Investigation Discovery to compete with the in-depth reporting on networks like CNN or Fox News. "There's plenty of news channels out there. We don't need to join that pack," he said.

Mr. Zaslav said in a statement that the ID strategy reflects the company's overall focus on an "organized, sequential repositioning of our emerging network portfolio." And as consumer interest in fact-based programming and content reaches critical mass, adding a Discovery network to showcase investigative and current-affairs programs is a timely move. "Discovery has a great programming tradition in this category, and Investigation Discovery will have over 200 hours of premiere programming in 2008, and the ability to distribute original content on the U.S. channel and across our networks in 173 countries internationally."
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