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H’w’d makes a Discovery

L.A.-based Sonnenberg will bolster net's West Coast ties

Discovery Networks is going Hollywood.

Company president Billy Campbell is establishing a Los Angeles base for Discovery’s stable of cablers, hiring former E! Networks exec VP Mark Sonnenberg as head of West Coast Entertainment — a newly created position that will help guide programming across all of Discovery. Among them are top-40 basic cable networks Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and Travel Channel.

Sonnenberg will report directly to Campbell; general managers of the respective networks will also continue to report to Campbell. Position will call for Sonnenberg to bolster ties with the production and creative community on the West Coast. He also will identify new production partners, program suppliers and on-air talent.

Campbell, who started his career alongside Sonnenberg while the two were at ABC, described him as a seasoned professional, with a resume “that spans many companies and jobs in different capacities. He’s one of the gems out there in terms of someone with multiple experiences.”

Based in Silver Spring, Md., Campbell said he’d often hear about potential projects and pitches a day or a week late.

“As we continue to grow our channels and compete in a world of changing tastes, this position was an inevitability if we want to stay competitive,” Campbell said. “Boosting our relationships in Los Angeles has been a priority since I arrived three years ago, and it’s very important to have (an empowered) person on the ground there able to hear what’s going on and make decisions.”

And Discovery is in sore need of fresh ideas. “American Chopper” and “Monster Garage” are still going strong on Discovery Channel. But with the waning “Trading Spaces,” TLC has suffered double-digit ratings declines over the past two quarters (down 30% and 33% in total viewers and 18-49, respectively). Discovery Channel and Animal also have fallen in key demos in the second quarter, while Travel has remained flat.

On the positive tip, Sonnenberg relates what’s happening to the Discovery Networks with his experience at E!.

“These are networks once considered niche that are now mainstream. And with that comes a lot of competition,” he said. “It only makes sense to have someone out here who knows the lay of the land.

“This is going to be very collaborative. I view myself as an extension of the general managers of the channels,” Sonnenberg continued. “I’ll be able to see, hear and react to things a lot quicker than before on their behalf.”

TLC already has begun dipping into showbiz for content. Upcoming shows include “Million Dollar Agents” and “Going Hollywood.” In addition, Adam Corolla is hosting a home construction show.

Sonnenberg will spend the next weeks getting to know the ins and outs of all 14 of the Discovery cablers. “I think the key for all these channels is to continue to be unique, fun and educational,” he said.

Exec spent the last four years as entertainment chief for E! Networks, where he oversaw all content, including “E! True Hollywood Story,” “The Anna Nicole Show” and “Dr. 90210.” Past positions include exec VP of entertainment for In Demand and exec veep of programming for Fox and head of FX Networks.

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