Tribune’s local TV stations raked in about $150 million-$155 million in political advertising dollars during the 2012 presidential election cycle. “We’re going to crush that number in 2016,” Liguori told the crowd Monday at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom investor conference in San Francisco.
Part of the reason for Liguori’s confidence is that Tribune’s station group has nearly doubled in size since 2012, thanks to its 2013 acquisition of Local TV LLC. The group of 42 stations now includes multiple outlets in 13 key swing states such as Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
“We’re going to have two rounds of robust advertising” during the campaign cycle, Liguori said. “In some of those markets we have three stations. (Spending) in California could approach $1 billion. We’re going to take advantage of that.”
Liguori also talked up the growth prospects of Tribune’s general entertainment cabler, WGN America. The company is plowing money into original programming for the channel in a bid to make it more valuable to MVPDs. By the fourth quarter of this year, with original series plus off-network acquisitions such as CBS’ “Blue Bloods” and “Person of Interest,” WGNA should rise from its current rank in the mid-50s among all cable channels to the 40s if not the 30s, Liguori predicted. “I look at the fourth quarter as being a big pivot period for us,” he said.
Liguori was pressed on the status of Tribune’s relationship with the CW. Affiliation deals for the company’s 13 major-market CW outlets are up at the end of next year. Liguori was complimentary about the network’s recent ratings improvements without explicitly committing to a renewal. He suggested that there needed to be better coordination of Tribune’s interests with leaders of CW’s parent companies, Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsujihara and CBS Corp. boss Leslie Moonves, and CW president Mark Pedowitz.
“I remain steadfast in my position that the CW represents a huge opportunity for all of us,” Liguori said. “What I want to do more than anything is to get together with Kevin, Les and Mark and really sit down and create a path to more explosive growth. I do believe that could happen. It’s one of the rare opportunities for that to happen in broadcast. The fact that we are noticing some traction (lately) should only whet our appetite further.”