Former Fox topper tapped as chief operating officer

Peter Liguori has landed at Discovery Communications.

Liguori, the former Fox network topper, has been appointed chief operating officer of Discovery, reporting to prexy and CEO David Zaslav. Liguori will oversee marketing, the Discovery Studios production wing, business affairs and other administrative departments for the company that operates 13 domestic channels and myriad international services.

As COO, Liguori succeeds Mark Hollinger, who was named prexy and CEO of Discovery Networks Intl. last week. Hollinger, an 18-year company vet, spent the past two years in the COO post. Liguori will relocate to the East Coast and start at the Silver Spring, Md.-based company on Jan. 19.

Liguori will serve as the key exec overseeing Discovery’s joint venture channels, including Oprah Winfrey’s OWN and the nascent kidvid partnership with Hasbro. He’ll also chair Discovery’s Content Committee, comprising the general managers of its U.S. channels, which plots strategy and ways to make the most of Discovery’s marketing dollars.

Liguori is known to have had conversations with a number of major cablers since he exited Fox Broadcasting Co. in March as part of the post-Peter Chernin shakeup that saw former Fox Searchlight chief Peter Rice installed as chairman of entertainment for the Fox network. The marketing emphasis of his gig at Discovery is a good fit with Liguori’s background, since he started in advertising, at Ogilvy & Mather and Saatchi & Saatchi, and as a marketing exec at HBO.

Zaslav praised the exec’s “keen eye for standout marketing and distinctive, compelling content” in announcing the hire. He also noted that Liguori’s background in programming “brings to Discovery managerial depth and extensive relationships with the creative community.”

Liguori’s appointment is another sign that Discovery is looking to reach beyond its walls for more of its programming. It also comes as partnerships like OWN, slated to bow in January 2011, and the Hasbro channel are taking on greater prominence in the Discovery universe. The existing Discovery Kids channel is set to relaunch as a 50-50 joint venture with Hasbro in late 2010.

For Liguori, the move to Discovery is “a dream opportunity,” he told Daily Variety.

Liguori noted the strength of Discovery’s many brands — which also include TLC, Animal Planet, Planet Green and Science Channel — and he said he was impressed by Zaslav’s willingness to experiment and take bold steps in transforming channels.

“David has done an amazing job of seeing up a first-place team of high-quality people,” Liguori said. “He’s really hungry for success and he’s set bold, ambitious goals for the company.”

As a marketing maven, he’s anxious to be involved with the company’s big-event programming, Discovery’s track record with blue-chip programming with promoting limited series speshes like “Planet Earth” and “Raising the Mammoth.”

“It’s going to be fun to go after these events that really tie in people’s emotional attachment to our brands,” he said.

Liguori spent four years as the head of entertainment at Fox.

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