Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s optimistic forecast to analysts this morning is a slight improvement from three months ago when he said that his joint venture with Oprah Winfrey would merely begin to break even by late next year. He’s impressed by recent audience growth at OWN — including the 20% ratings improvement in Q2 among women 25-to-54. “Candidly we’re significantly ahead of where we thought we would be,” Zaslav said in a conference call to discuss Discovery’s Q2 earnings. While Discovery doesn’t break out revenue and profit numbers for OWN, execs said that the channel spilled less red ink in Q2 than in did in the previous quarter which included the cost of shuttering Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show. The company warned that OWN’s losses could grow in Q3: It plans to spend more on marketing as well as programming. That’s “investing into momentum,” CFO Andrew Warren says. The recent audience growth is not a blip, according to Zaslav. “We’re quite confident that we’ve begun to find the recipe for a strong women’s network” that is “starting to be what Oprah and I talked about.” He calls OWN “one of the best brands in media, and for women it may be the best brand in media.” Winfrey is “more engaged” and the channel has a “good leadership team,” Zaslav says. He adds that Oprah.com has become an important part of the mix because it helps to provide direct contact with OWN’s viewers. He notes that all eight of its initial advertising partners continue to work with the channel.
On other matters, Zaslav says that ratings at Discovery Channel and TLC should improve soon: They’ll introduce new shows and season premieres after the Olympics and Discovery’s Shark Week (which begins August 12). Zaslav’s also upbeat about advertising. “We’re not seeing any softness” in the scatter market, he says adding that pricing in the company’s upfront sales was “quite good.”