Rich Ross Named President of Discovery Channel

Former Shine America and Disney exec Rich Ross has joined Discovery Channel as president, filling the void left in August by Eileen O’Neill’s move to a posting overseeing Discovery’s global production operation.

Ross’ move to Discovery, first reported by Variety, follows the completion of the merger between 21st Century Fox’s Shine Group and Apollo Global Management’s Endemol and Core Media Grop production banners.

The management restructuring in the newly created joint venture of Fox and Apollo left no role for Ross in the U.S. operation. Endemol North America chiefs Charlie Corwin and Cris Abrego were named heads of the combined U.S. venture on Tuesday, minutes after Discovery formally announced Ross’ hire.

Ross will oversee all programming programming, marketing and day-to-day operations of the channel, reporting to Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav. He will be based in Los Angeles — which is a big shift for the Silver Spring, Md.-based cable group. The company has a large number of employees in L.A., including about 35% of Discovery’s staff, but the head of the company’s flagship cabler has previously been based at the HQ in Maryland.

Zaslav recruited Ross because Discovery needs a proven exec with strong development and marketing chops. Zaslav told Variety he had long been impressed by Ross’ track record in building Disney Channel into a global powerhouse through original programming and savvy marketing.

Discovery, Zaslav acknowledged, needs an injection of new creative leadership to grow from the strong base of male-centric programming it enjoys now.

“Rich is someone who can re-imagine a great brand and nourish an audience with scripted and non-scripted programming. He’s someone that creatives love to work with,” Zaslav said. “Having Rich on board gives us the ability to take harder and bigger swings on the content and marketing side. I love the ambition he has for Discovery.”

Discovery has had a few soft quarters ratings-wise, although the flagship network has not suffered the double-digit declines as its sibling TLC and Animal Planet channels. Zaslav has high hopes that Ross’ creative vision will pay off not only for Discovery in the U.S. but for the conglom’s international outlets and through SVOD licensing.

Ross’ hire “moves us up a few pegs in terms of our ambition on even more platforms,” Zaslav said. “All the new channels out there are paying more and more money for the really good (programming).”

Ross had been with Shine America as CEO since October 2012. He was hand-picked by Shine founder Elisabeth Murdoch to help rev up the group’s U.S. outpost. On Ross’ watch, Shine America has expanded its activity with both unscripted and scripted series.

Ross came to Shine after a rocky two and a half years at the top of Disney’s film group. Before that, he spearheaded the transformation of Disney Channels Worldwide into a powerhouse during his 13 years on the TV side of the Mouse House.

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