More changes follow merger of Discovery Communications, Scripps Networks Interactive

Two months into Discovery Communications’ control of Scripps Networks Interactive, executive changes continue — most putting longtime Discovery personnel in charge.

A recent internal email from Discovery Chief Technology Officer John Honeycutt to employees, referring to “the transition and transformation ahead,” outlines eight pending executive changes, mostly at the company’s offices in Northern Virginia.

Only one directly concerns Knoxville: Bob Baskerville “will take on added responsibility for overall operations in Knoxville.” Of the executives mentioned, only Baskerville was previously associated with Scripps. He was one of the founders of HGTV and became Scripps' chief information officer in 2013.

In a deal announced last fall, Maryland-based Discovery bought Scripps in a $14.6 billion cash-and-stock deal. That includes Discovery’s assumption of Scripps’ $2.7 billion debt. The deal closed March 6. Five days earlier, the companies jointly announced a Scripps leadership shakeup.

In the March 1 announcement, seven Discovery executives took on new roles in the combined company. Ken Lowe stepped down as Scripps CEO, as previously announced, to take a seat created for him on Discovery’s board.

Two Scripps executives, Kathleen Finch and Jon Steinlauf, took on larger jobs at that point: Finch as the combined firm’s chief lifestyle brands officer, and Steinlauf as the chief U.S. ad sales officer. Both positions were expansions of what they did at Scripps.

Other recent departures at Scripps are an expected consequence of those initial moves, which put Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s leadership team in place, said Kristin Alm, local corporate communications director for Discovery.

“That leadership team is further defining their leadership team,” as the transition works down through executive ranks, she said.

Four Scripps executives were named as possible recipients of severance packages in merger documents: Chief Operating Officer Burton Jablin, Chief Financial Officer Lori Hickok, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Cynthia Gibson, and Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Mark Hale.

Four other Scripps executives were unmentioned in the merger: Henry Ahn, president of content distribution and marketing; Steven Gigliotti, chief revenue officer; Dylan Jones, executive vice president and chief communications officer; and Jim Samples, international president.

Two of those four are still with the company, according to Alm.

Ahn remains in his role; Samples works from Poland, where he heads the company’s TVN Group, Alm said.

Jones recently posted on LinkedIn that it was “time to hand in the badge and head on to the next challenge.” His page says he also left Scripps in April.

Gigliotti retired at the end of April, Alm said.

Scripps’ ability to produce content much less expensively than Discovery was a major reason cited for the purchase. Discovery has announced it hopes to save $350 million over two years by combining operations, but whether those savings would come from adopting Scripps-style efficiency or from cuts is unknown.

The deal left Scripps’ 1,000 Knoxville-area employees concerned for their jobs, but in January Discovery announced it would not only keep the Knoxville campus open, but also would move its own national operations headquarters here as well.

That designation represents an intention to keep major operations here, but not necessarily a major move of Discovery personnel to Knoxville or added local jobs, Alm said. There may be some reciprocal employee moves between Knoxville and other Discovery offices, but that’s likely to be gradual, she said.

More decisions are likely in the next few months on whether some of Discovery’s entire business units may move, but no big sudden shifts are anticipated, Alm said.

Incentives, commitment?

When Discovery’s takeover took place the existence of incentives from Tennessee was acknowledged, but with no details given. The move comes with unspecified state incentives. Those state economic incentives, and any reciprocal job commitments by Discovery, are still unknown.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jim Gaines

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Published May 9, 2018