Oprah Winfrey Network Ousts CEO Norman After Initial Ratings Disappoint

Oprah Winfrey Network dismissed Chief Executive Officer Christina Norman after ratings at the four- month old cable channel fell below the expectations of its backers.

Norman will be replaced on an interim basis by Peter Liguori, chief operating officer of Discovery Communications Inc. (DISCA), which co-owns the channel with talk-show host Winfrey, according to a statement today. The channel began a search for a permanent CEO.

Liguori will be the third head of the female-targeted OWN, which started on Jan. 1. The channel has so far been a disappointment to Discovery. The company had spent $216 million on the channel through March 31, according to regulatory filings. Norman, who replaced Robin Schwartz in 2009, failed to deliver the ratings that Discovery CEO David Zaslav wanted.

“The ratings have been, out of the first few months, below our expectations,” said Discovery CEO David Zaslav in an April 28 conference call with investors.

Discovery, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, initially committed to spend $100 million on OWN, it has said in filings.

Discovery Communications rose 37 cents to $44.52 2:38 p.m. in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The shares had gained 5.9 percent this year before today.

The channel, which has a lineup including a reality show featuring the singing Judd family and a “Oprah Behind the Scenes," is competing with programmers including Lifetime, owned by Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., and NBC Universal’s Bravo.

Liguori’s appointment ‘‘reflects a transition from a launch phase to a more long-term focus on business and creative strategy, development and execution,” Discovery said in the statement.

The channel started without a current talk show from Winfrey, who is contractually committed to her syndicated broadcast show and will start a new program on OWN next year.

The company said that it expects Winfrey to host “Oprah’s Next Chapter” beginning in early 2012. It also said a new talk show from Rosie O’Donnell, “Rosie,” will make its debut in October.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ronald Grover in Los Angeles at rgrover5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

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