Ford to head Discovery Channel

Root steps down

The Discovery Channel has promoted John Ford to president- general manager, succeeding Jane Root, who has resigned.

Ford rejoined Discovery Communications less than three months ago, as prexy-general manager of the Discovery Times Channel, which will be renamed Investigation Discovery, and the Military Channel. Ford had spent 13 years at Discovery from 1990-2003, rising to president of Discovery Health. He ankled Discovery Health to become exec VP of programming for National Geographic Channel in 2003.

Root was the controller of BBC2 when Discovery hired her in May 2004 to take over as president of both Discovery Channel and Discovery Science. Her departure is another in a series of housecleaning moves that David Zaslav has engineered since he took over as CEO of Discovery Communications earlier this year.

In February, Zaslav cut loose Billy Campbell as prexy of Discovery Networks U.S. and Dawn McCall as president of Discovery Networks Intl. In March, the company laid off 200 employees.

Root has actually presided over a resurgence in the ratings for Discovery Channel. For example, during the summer (May 28-Aug. 36), Discovery shot up by 11% in total viewers, climbing into ninth place among all cable networks. Net was also up by double digits in adults 18-49 and adults 18-34, finishing in the top 10 in both demo categories.

In November, Discovery put up double-digit increases in total viewers and in adult demos, led by a 43% hike in 18-34.

Zaslav said one reason for Discovery’s gains is that the network dropped “crime programs, forensic shows, biker and car programs.” Even though some of these shows, including “Monster Garage,” were popular, Zaslav said they were detracting from the Discovery brand.

“Discovery has gone back to its focus on adventure, exploration and natural history,” Zaslav said. “These are areas that John Ford is an expert in, and he has good relationships with the producers who make these shows.”

Ford will focus on Discovery Channel, which means that Zaslav will have to find a new president for Discovery Science, over which Root also presided. She will return from the company’s HQ in Silver Spring, Md., to her native England.

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