Tribune pressing CBS to improve The CW


Asked by a bond analyst how much of Tribune Broadcasting’s revenue is attributable to The CW network, Tribune COO Randy Michaels replied that “darn little of our revenue come from The CW.” But he wants that to change. He and Tribune Broadcasting President Ed Wilson met with CBS Corporation CEO Les Moonves two weeks ago to talk about how to improve The CW network. Of course, there are rumors that The CW may have to shut down. Michaels is prepared for that possibility as well.

“If they had better programming it would certainly help us,” Michaels said. As the biggest affiliate group for The CW, Tribune has a lot riding on the network. But he also noted that the network only programs two hours a day. In fact, the other 22 hours that Tribune itself programs tend to do better than the network primetime programming.

“We have Les’ personal commitment to work on this,” Michaels said. He said the CBS CEO asked for input and the Tribune execs provided their first suggestion. That was in the event that CBS has a ballgame that it can’t run because of a schedule conflict, instead of auctioning it off, put it on The CW. Look for more suggestions to come, Les.

As for the idea of Tribune being able to switch any of its CW stations to a big four network, as it did with Fox in San Diego, Michaels called that a “one-off” situation which is not likely to be repeated.

Tribune reported its Q1 financial results weeks ago, so yesterday’s conference call dealt more with operating philosophy than numbers. Michaels spoke about “right sizing” staffs at the company’s newspapers, and noted that journalists will be assessed in part on how much content they actually contribute to the publication they work for. CEO Sam Zell did discuss numbers a bit, noting the 27% decline in Q1 revenues for classified advertising in Tribune’s newspapers. “It is important to note that classified advertising cannot go below zero,” Zell stated, but he also said Tribune is working to recapture some of that classified business online.

The Internet is a big focus for all of Tribune’s operations. If you want to see the prototype for what Tribune wants to do with its television websites, check out KPLR-TV St. Louis’ webside, It isn’t complete yet, but Michaels says it is a “peek” at the future. He said the new online platform “is going to allow us to make a lot of money.” To that end, Tribune is hiring local sellers who will not go after advertising dollars for the web, but rather promotion and event money.

RBR/TVBR observation: To be sure, things are changing fast at Tribune Company. Five months in, Zell says the deeper his team goes, the more opportunities it finds at Tribune. So expect the pace of change to pick up even more, not slow down. How are employees dealing with this? Zell insisted that the new management team has support from “the vast majority of employees,” who are enthusiastic about revitalizing the company’s businesses.