Tribune CEO Peter Liguori is the network’s biggest affiliate owner, so the CW owners CBS and Warner Bros have to take him seriously. And something will have to give based on the tough comments he made today at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit — the same day CW execs told advertisers, in their upfront presentation, that the network just attracted its largest audience in three years. Liguori says he’s “not pleased with where the CW is” adding that it “should not program to [young] people who don’t watch television.” CBS’ Les Moonves and Warner Bros’ Kevin Tsujihara know that CW “can’t move forward without us.” What specifically does the Tribune chief want? Liguori says it may be time for him to “get a seat at the table” for programming. “Maybe I can put some of my content on there.” He also raised the possibility of playing a larger role in its management. “All of those things have to be in play.” Part of the problem, as Liguori sees it, is that CW is a sideshow for its owners. “If CW becomes a competitor, isn’t [Moonves] possibly threatened [at CBS]? Yes. We have to break that log jam.”
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Liguori made his comments as he sketched his ambitious TV plans at a company that used to be most famous for its newspapers including the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. He’s enthusiastic about the early response to the historical fiction drama Salem that premiered in April on Tribune’s WGN America. That’s helping with upfront ad pricing, with limits. “Are [per-viewer prices] competitive with the FXs and USAs? Not yet,” he says. He vowed to approach original productions with a keen eye for the bottom line, for example by not shooting pilots. “It’s a big economic waste,” he says. By going directly to series “you don’t waste $7M to $8M on a test. You aren’t going to do an $11M episode 4.”
Tribune hopes to boost the service by converting it from a broadcast superstation into a conventional basic cable network. That would free pay TV distributors from making royalty payments to the U.S. Copyright Office — “not to my pocket,” Liguori says. By year end he expects systems covering about half of the country to take WGNA as a cable channel, with the rest making the change in about two years. That might help improve WGNA’s distribution, even though cable and satellite companies say they want to drop channels. “You just have to present a value proposition. … It’s like pizzarias. There’s one on every corner but there’s always more room for another good one.”
Meanwhile, Tribune is optimistic about the opportunities to profit from its TV stations following the $2.7B acquisition last year of Local TV. The deal gives tribune a presence in at least 11 states that politicos consider up for grabs and that have “robust, rigorous campaigns coming down the pike.” Ad revenues from the political groups “will help us in the back half of the year.”
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