Discovery Management Shakeup: Scripps’ Kathleen Finch Gets Big Portfolio, Rich Ross Out at Discovery

Kathleen Finch of Scripps and Nancy
Courtesy of Scripps/Discovery/Rex/Shutterstock

Two top executives from Scripps Networks Interactive will gain big portfolios at Discovery Communications now that the $12 billion merger of independent cable programmers is nearly completed.

Discovery confirmed Thursday that Scripps’ Kathleen Finch will take over a big portfolio of networks in her new role as chief lifestyle brands officer, overseeing HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, Travel Channel, DIY Network, Cooking Channel, Discovery Life, American Heroes Channel, Destination America, Great American Country and Lifestyle Digital Studio. She had been chief programming, content and brand officer for Scripps.

Separately, Rich Ross is out after nearly four years as head of Discovery Channel and Science Channel. TLC president Nancy Daniels will take on oversight of the Discovery mothership and Science with her promotion to chief brand officer of Discovery and Factual. Howard Lee will rise from exec VP of TLC and Discovery Life to president and g.m. of both cablers, reporting to Finch.

Scripps’ Jon Steinlauf will spearhead all domestic ad sales for Discovery in his new role as chief U.S. advertising sales officer. Ben Price, president of U.S. ad sales for Discovery, will report to Steinlauf.

“Today’s announcement is another major milestone in combining these two fantastic companies into a new kind of media company with the most trusted portfolio of real life entertainment brands in the world,” said David Zaslav, president-CEO of Discovery Communications. “Upon closing, each division will have a best-in-class leader focused on quickly integrating the combined teams to create new ways for advertisers and distributors to reach highly targeted audiences at scale; capturing operating efficiencies across both companies; and driving innovation to continue telling great stories and nourishing our passionate, loyal superfans around the world across every consumer screen, service and platform.”

Some things won’t change after the merger, which is expected to close within a week. Henry Schleiff will continue in his role as head of Investigation Discovery and American Heroes Channel, reporting to Finch. Erik Logan will continue as president of OWN, Discovery’s joint venture with Oprah Winfrey, reporting the board that oversees OWN. Susanna Dinnage remains global president of Animal Planet.

Jean-Briac Perrette will stay in his role as CEO of Discovery Networks International. David Leavy continues as Discovery’s chief corporate operations and communications officer. Discovery’s Gunnar Wiedenfels will serve as CFO for the combined company.

Discovery’s acquisition of Scripps is a big bet that the combination of Scripps’ lifestyle channels — including Food Network and HGTV — will enhance Discovery’s portfolio enough to give the combined company new heft with MVPD operators and greater market share with domestic and international advertisers. Discovery had flirted on and off with Scripps for years before reaching an agreement last July.

Ross, who made his name as a leader of Disney Channels Worldwide in the 1990s and 2000s, came to Discovery in the fall of 2014. He’s credited with returning the channel’s focus to high-end series and documentaries about the natural world, exploration and adventure after the channel had veered into more sensationalistic reality fare. But in the post-merger restructuring Ross was the odd man out given Finch’s strong track record at Scripps and Daniels’ success in reviving TLC after a long slump.

Discovery marked Ross’ return to cable programming after two years as head of Shine America and a rocky three-year run as head of Walt Disney Studios.

Daniels has been with Discovery since 2007, serving in a variety of programming and production posts. She was named president of TLC in 2013. Lee is a 20-year Discovery veteran who has been with TLC since 2008.

(Pictured: Kathleen Finch, Nancy Daniels, Rich Ross)