* Ligouri takes over as interim CEO
* Ratings have disapppointed
* Winfrey and Ligouri to seek new CEO by year end
(Adds Winfrey memo, shares, byline)
By Yinka Adegoke
NEW YORK, May 6 Discovery Communications Inc
(DISCA.O) and Oprah Winfrey have pushed out Christina Norman as
chief executive of OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, after a
tough start for the five-month old cable network.
Discovery Chief Operating Officer Peter Ligouri will take
over from Norman on an interim basis, in addition to his
OWN, which launched in the United States on Jan. 1, has
struggled to win ratings in its first five months.
In a memo to staff on Friday, Winfrey thanked Norman for
her hard work in getting OWN on air but said the new network
had much to do.
"Given all that we have to do, the OWN board felt it was
necessary that we have a different kind of leadership in place
for the next phase of OWN's growth," Winfrey said in the memo,
a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.
OWN, a joint venture between Discovery and Winfrey's
production company, offers largely female-oriented programming
with a combination of lifestyle, advice and uplifting shows.
Winfrey, regarded as the most influential woman on U.S.
television, is expected to devote more energy to OWN in the
coming months after the last original episode of her popular
syndicated TV show, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," airs on May 25 on
Walt Disney Co's (DIS.N) ABC.
Discovery CEO David Zaslav said on a conference call last
month that OWN's ratings had been "below our expectations."
"We have been digging in. We are focused on what does the
audience want from OWN. We are fully committed to the brand."
Discovery has said it will probably invest more in OWN in
addition to the $215 million that it used to fund the joint
venture through the first quarter.
Executives have said additional investment will depend on
the progress of ratings through the next several quarters.
Ligouri, speaking late last month, said Discovery intended
to produce about 400 hours of prime time original programming
from then until the end of the year.
Winfrey said she would work with Ligouri to find a
replacement for Norman over the remainder of the year.
The exit of Norman, a former MTV executive, has already
sparked speculation Discovery might turn to another former MTV
executive, Judy McGrath, some 24 hours after she stepped down
as CEO of MTV Networks, a unit of Viacom VIAb.N.
Discovery shares closed up 1.16 percent at $44.66 on
(Reporting by Yinka Adegoke, editing by Gerald E. McCormick,
Dave Zimmerman and Ted Kerr)