The CW and its top affiliate group Tribune are going down to the wire on renewing their affiliate agreement, which is up in the fall. The good news is, the two sides — Tribune and the CW owners CBS and Warner Bros. — are talking.
After the low point in the relationship in 2014 when Tribune Media CEO Peter Liguori made some pointed comments about being “not pleased” with the CW, things have somewhat normalized, with the two sides keeping it civil, at least in public.
Details of the negotiations are being kept close to the vest though sources say they are “hopeful” that a new deal would be reached. At the same time, others indicate that there is some frustration over the slow pace of the negotiations.
Despite an overall ratings slip in the fall — largely due to the performance of two shows, freshman Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which has been very low, and veteran The Vampire Diaries, whose season-to-season decline has been bigger than expected — the CW is in a much stronger position with affiliates than it was a couple of years ago, with a broader, older, more balanced female-male audience and big ratings hits like The Flash and Arrow as well as award-winning show like Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
That stance is being reaffirmed by the other CW affiliate groups, including Sinclair and Media General, which all have renewed their deals with the CW, leaving Tribune, owner of the CW stations in the top 3 markets, as the only holdout.
For Tribune, there are a number of factors to consider for its individual stations, like for instance the strong sports focus of the company’s Chicago CW affiliate, which often leads to preemptions. But above all, the two sides have to reach a financial agreement. (It is unclear if digital rights for the network’s series are under consideration.) While there are alternative scenarios both sides had been exploring should a new deal is be reached, “it’s good for both companies,” said an observer who was pretty optimistic about the outcome. Others are more cautious, expressing a considerable level of frustration, though most believe that an agreement will be reached eventually.
Tribune — which is the largest CW affiliate group by reach, 28%, may be holding its pursestrings tight because it already is making a major investment in WGN America, which recently was able to transition from superstation to a real, dual-feed cable cable network, landing key carriage deals to expand its presence.
Still, we are already in pilot season, and there needs to be a decision in the next couple of months so stations are ready for the fall. Normally, the CW brass would keep its largest affiliates in the loop on its pilot and new series decisions.
In addition to the Tribune deal, the CW has to decide on new streaming partners and its deals with Netflix (for previous seasons) and Hulu (for current seasons) also are set to expire this year. I hear there already are offers. It is a more competitive place now than it was 4.5 ago when the Netflix and Hulu pacts were made, with a new major player, Amazon, and a number of traditional TV companies, including the CW co-parent CBS, launching their own OTT service.