Trib ups stake in WB net

Lays out $8 mil for %25 share

The Tribune Co. on Thursday exercised its final option to boost its equity stake in the WB Television Network, upping its share from 21.9% to 25% for $8 million.

Time Warner now owns 64% of the WB, and through a limited partnership, WB CEO Jamie Kellner owns 11%.

Tribune Broadcasting stations are the WB’s launch group in the nation’s largest markets, and the $8 million Tribune paid went to Time Warner.

Tribune originally acquired 12.5% of the WB in August 1995 for $12 million, and in March 1997 the company increased that stake to 21.9% for $21 million. Tribune no longer has an option to purchase a larger piece of the emerging netlet.

Right now, Tribune’s increased stake means it will pay a larger percentage of the WB’s losses, which totaled $87 million last year.

The purchase is considered a vote of confidence in the future of the weblet, which has improved its ratings 19% this season, in part because of the launch of its Tuesday lineup. The WB plans to expand to a fifth night in January.

Tribune cited programs such as “Dawson’s Creek,” “7th Heaven” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as reasons for increasing its ownership stake. Tribune stations are up 11% during the February sweep vs. last year on nights with WB programming. On Tuesday alone, the Trib stations are up 42% from last year, when the WB didn’t program that night.

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