UPDATE, 6:50 AM: Not much from the conference call with analysts about the most interesting story at Discovery: the recent changes at its struggling joint venture with Oprah Winfrey, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Oprah recently named herself CEO and Chief Creative Officer. Zaslav says that “she is in place as CEO already,” and “we now have her creative team in place.” That means Discovery COO Peter Ligouri — named OWN’s interim CEO in May when the partners dumped Christina Norman — can “spend more time with us.”
Zaslav acknowledged problems at 3Net, the 3D channel Discovery launched with Sony and Imax. “3D, candidly, has been slower than we expected,” he says. “The market demand has not developed yet.” He attributes that to sluggish sales of TV sets that require people to wear glasses to see images in 3D. If a technology that doesn’t require glasses comes along, “we’ll be there.”
At other networks, Zaslav says that the flagship Discovery Channel “should be better” than it is. He’s optimistic about new shows including Gold Rush, Sons of Guns, and Curiosity. But the CEO says he’s impressed with the recent growth at TLC and ID: Investigation Discovery. “This year we put a stake in the ground with TLC,” he says. He expects it to reach 100M cable and satellite homes by year end, and the company has big plans to offer TLC abroad. With ID, Zaslav says its ratings have soared much more quickly than expected and should continue to grow because “only 35% of people who have ID know that they have it.” It will take about three years before the channel can fully capitalize on its growth with higher ad rates.
PREVIOUS, 4:12 AM: Discovery Communications celebrated “Shark Week” by throwing some chum to the sharks on Wall Street. The company increased its stock-repurchase plan by $1B. It has already spent $609M buying back 16.8M shares. Discovery also slightly raised its outlook for 2011: It expects to end the year with as much as $4.175B in revenues, up from the $4.125B maximum it projected in April. The non-fiction cable network owner said that net 2Q earnings came in at $254M, up 71.6% vs the same period last year, on revenues of $1.07B, up 11%. Keep in mind that last year’s 2Q profits were depressed when Discovery made an early payment on its debt; factoring that out as well as other one-time factors, the latest 2Q net income figure is up $43M vs last year — not $148M. Still, earnings at 62 cents a share slightly beat the Street’s consensus forecast of 61 cents. Analysts expected revenues of $1.05B. Ad revenue at the U.S. cable networks rose 10% as Discovery raised its prices while selling more of its inventory. CEO David Zaslav says he plans to build Discovery’s assets “while delivering sustained financial results and returning additional capital to our shareholders.” More to come later this morning when Zaslav holds his quarterly call with analysts.