This is a tough time for general entertainment cable networks, which have seen ratings dwindle for months. But Tribune Media CEO Peter Liguori says that doesn’t daunt him as he converts WGN America from a superstation into a traditional basic cable channel. One of WGNA’s mainstay shows, In The Heat Of The Night, “doesn’t deserve spending a lot of money on,” he told the Wells Fargo Securities Technology, Media & Telecom investor conference today. “But as we upgrade our movie packages we are going to be able to get more profits and get more promo and get more traffic and then we’re going to be able to invest in originals.” For example, Tribune owns a third of its series Manhattan. “We want to promote the daylights out of it on WGN in a way that we can cut a good Hulu deal – which we did. And, God willing, the show continues.” Same thing with an upcoming series, Outsiders. “We are 50-50 partners with Sony,” Liguori says. “I want to use all the same dynamics.”
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As for the weakness in cable ratings, the CEO says Nielsen is partly to blame for being slow to catch up with people who watch TV shows on mobile devices. “But the currency is what the currency is,” Liguori says. “If we spend too much time kvetching over Nielsen, we’re not going to have our eye on the ball.” And he’s encouraged by opportunities to sell content on additional platforms. “If I have an ownership position, I’ll get ad sales, good affiliate revenue, target revenue from streaming, and I get revenue from foreign and syndicated sales. I don’t care where you watch it, as long as we are able to capture that measurement.”
He hedged, though, when asked about potential deals. He wants to wait and “see what the market bears out” before deciding whether to let the FCC auction to wireless broadband companies some of the airwave spectrum Tribune’s local stations use. “We have great confidence that, if we do participate, we are in a great position. We have seven of the top 10 markets. Those markets have incredible value from a spectrum perspective.”
He’s also in no hurry to sell Tribune’s stake in the Food Network. It generates a dividend, and proceeds of a sale might be heavily taxed. “We’ve shown a great appetite for monetizing our investments,” he says (the pun appeared to be unintentional). “Price talks… Sometimes Ben Franklin makes decisions for us.”
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