Rich Ross has been named President of Discovery Channel. He will join Discovery Communications in January and be based at the company’s L.A. office. Ross will oversee creative and brand strategy, development, production, marketing and all day-to-day operations for the network and report to David Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery Communications.
Ross is replacing Marjorie Kaplan, who was named interim head of Discovery Channel in August when Zaslav named former network chief Eileen O’Neill to the new post of Global Group President at Discovery Studios in one of those executive shakeups for which he’s so well known. O’Neill, a 25-year Discovery exec, was assigned to lead its worldwide production division, overseeing all international facilities and creative talent at Discovery Studios, managing the company’s in-house production units and serving on the board of directors of All3Media once that transaction has closed, the company announced back then. And Kaplan, a nearly 15-year veteran of Discovery, who was Group President of TLC and Animal Planet, was tapped to serve as interim head of Discovery Channel, while hanging on to her other duties. Pop quiz tomorrow.
Today’s announcement comes as the Discovery Channel is having a strong fourth quarter, with total viewership up 17%.
Ross joins Discovery from Shine America, where in his role as CEO since 2013 he oversaw commercial strategy of Shine Group’s U.S. operations and all aspects of Shine America’s production, distribution and marketing of original programming across broadcast, cable and digital platforms, including such programs as Fox’s MasterChef and MasterChef Junior, NBC’s The Biggest Loser, Oxygen’s The Face, CNBC’s Restaurant Startup, TruTV’s Fake-Off, FX’s recently canceled The Bridge, Fox’s Gracepoint, and HBO’s upcoming drama Utopia.
He had been looking for a new job since 21st Century Fox’s proposed joint venture with private equity firm Apollo Global Management that would include the Shine Group, Endemol and Core Media Group has gone full steam ahead. Shine founder Elisabeth Murdoch will step down as nonexecutive chairman as soon as the deal closes, expected by year’s end.
Ross, who already had been looking for a new job, is returning to cable TV, where he has been most successful with his stint at Disney Channel.
Prior to joining Shine America, Ross served at Disney from 1996-2012. He most recently was chairman of Walt Disney Studios from 2009-12, where he oversaw worldwide production, distribution and marketing for the company’s range of live-action and feature-animated film labels, including Walt Disney, Disney-Pixar and Marvel. Previously, Ross served as President of Disney Channels Worldwide from 2004-09, where he managed the company’s global television and radio portfolio for kids, including six brands and more than 70 kids TV channels around the world. Under Ross’ leadership, Disney Channel delivered basic cable TV’s top two scripted telecasts of all time in total viewers and cable TV’s top two telecasts ever among kids 6-11 and tweens (2007’s High School Musical 2 and 2009’s Wizards Of Waverly Place The Movie — the latter was unseated in 2014). Ross launched a string of shows that helped define a generation, including Hannah Montana, Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens, That’s So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Wizards Of Waverly Place, The Proud Family and Phineas And Ferb.
Prior to his global role as President, Ross was Disney Channel President of Entertainment from 2002-04, General Manager and EVP Programming and )roduction from 1999-2002 and SVP Programming and Production, from 1996-99.
Prior to his tenure at Disney, Ross was SVP Development and Production for FX Networks from 1993-96, where he was a member of the team that launched the cable network. Ross began his career at Nickelodeon, rising to VP Program Enterprises.
Kaplan, who has served as interim president for the Discovery Channel, will continue in that capacity until Ross’ arrival. She will continue to serve as group president of TLC and Animal Planet and will add Velocity to the portfolio of networks under her leadership. Zaslav thanked Kaplan in today’s announcement for jumping in during the interim period and said she would return full time to “providing steadiness and creative leadership to TLC, Animal Planet and her entire portfolio.”