Sinclair Plans Big Changes for WGN America, Eyes MVPD Offering With Tribune Media Deal

Underground Jasika Nicole
Courtesy of WGN America

Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley didn’t mince words: WGN America’s programming focus will be very different once Sinclair’s $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media is completed.

The Baltimore-based station owner has great ambition for using the heft of its expanded national footprint to launch new businesses, potentially even an MVPD-like bundle of channels, but high-end scripted originals will no longer be a priority if Sinclair and Tribune secure federal approval to tie the knot.

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Tribune Tower

Sinclair Sets $3.9 Billion Deal to Acquire Tribune Media

There’s been speculation about Sinclair trying to launch a conservative-leaning news channel in WGN America’s place — given the talent available from the Fox News shakeup of the past year — but that would be a big investment for a company that is already taking on a big debt load with the Tribune deal, valued at $3.9 billion plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt. Sinclair envisions carrying a high five-times-earnings leverage ratio for at least a year if the Tribune pact is approved as it stands now.

Ripley told Wall Street analysts Monday that WGN America’s ratings cannot support the channel’s current level of spending on original series. Sinclair’s focus will be on “repositioning WGN America for profitable growth.” Ripley noted that WGN America already had begun paring back under the direction of interim Tribune CEO Peter Kerns, emphasizing lower-cost originals and acquired series.

“The ratings WGN America (delivers) doesn’t justify the type of spending they do on the original programming side,” Ripley said. “The channel could be run much more profitably on a fraction of what they spend on programming.”

Ripley didn’t name specific shows but his remarks left no doubt the WGN America will back away from scripted dramas, a field it moved into aggressively under previous CEO Peter Liguori. Liguori left the company in March after four years at the helm.

“Underground,” WGN America’s top original series, has drawn critical acclaim and a respectable audience, by WGN America standards. The historical drama wraps its second season on Wednesday. It’s likely that producer Sony Pictures Television will look to find a new home for “Underground.”

Earlier this month WGN America canceled another Sony-produced drama, “Outsiders.” WGN America also recently completed production on a pilot from Warner Horizon Television, “Scalped,” a crime drama set on a Native American reservation.

Meanwhile, Ripley emphasized that Sinclair’s long-term vision for the company includes expanding into cutting-edge data services and even MVPD-like offerings, using the robust broadcast bandwidth that will be enabled once broadcasters, tech giants and the FCC finish wrangling over an upgraded technical standard for broadcast TV, or ATSC 3.0.

“This is key to getting us that much closer to a nationwide network for advanced services such as virtual MVPDs and connected cars,” Ripley said. “That’s the sort of network that opens up incremental revenue opportunities that are beyond core broadcasting.”

(Pictured: “Underground”)

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  1. Assata A Knox says:

    In other words, money talks. To heck with quality programming.

  2. Dave Purpura says:

    As a Chicago sports fan, it would have been nice for Sinclair to have made this deal a few years ago before Ligouri and Matt Cherniss sent WGN America straight down the tubes. Haven’t watched it since the day they broadcast their last Cubs game. Worthless channel and anything that happens to it from here would be an improvement. Unfortunately I see no way WGN local returns to the national feed, not with what’s been done the past few years.

  3. Burt Ward says:

    With this deal, they will own 4 of the 6 commercial English language stations in my area. We know what Sinclair did when they only owned one and bought the second, they cleaned it to the core. I had an interview at the UPN station that Sinclair had just purchased. I arrived and the turd said I needed to go to the CW station as he was moving his office there. As I was headed out, he calls and says he checked his email and he had told me to go to the UPN. So he went ahead with the interviewed me and it was a nightmare. He was asking about Tinker Toys and Lincoln Log. Tinker toys being the wrong thing for working in engineering because Sinclair was a Lincoln Log company, there was no room for creativity. I assured him I was for real a Tinker Toy guy because I thrived on creativity. So he didn’t hire me but their rival did. After a while, I figured out through membership at SBE that this guy had a serious Napolean complex. As he screwed with employees benefits, he also told them to save up enough vacation time in case Sinclair dumps the new stations and they get fired. Then they demoted him to MCO and he quit where he now works in the copy center at a local office supply.

  4. denver dad says:

    I guess… if you have big enough b*lls to tell John “I just won an oscar along with my emmys and grammys ” Legend to take his hit show and get out… sounds like a solid plan. What network or “company of investors ” would want that over “the best local live late breaking news ” in Wilkes Barre??? Sinclair boss and Trump BFF is a short lived short fingered flash in the pan.

  5. Diane says:

    These comments must have been written by WGN’s ten viewers! LOL Bring on some conservative news to compete with FOX News. There’s an incredible roster out there! Go for it Sinclair! I can’t wait. =))

    • denver dad says:

      My life plan is to sit around the house all day and watch ultra conservative news ( said no one ever )

  6. Tess says:

    These decisions are just too stupid for me. Another political, rerun series station. So Sinclair wants to compete with Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. Well good luck with that. As we are a capitalist nation, I am confident that the market will deal with this stupidity. I hope the producers and writers of Outsiders do not give up. Outsiders is a fantastic show. If the producers keep pushing, this show will find a home–eventually.

  7. Julia says:

    Outsiders is the show that turned us on too the network. We saw a commercial for Scalped and planned on checking that out. Im going to cancel my subscription.

  8. Jayia says:

    I will cancel my subscription and ask others to do the same. We fought hard to keep When on Dish just to get stabbed in the back by network.

  9. Connie McKeever says:

    You suck! Bring Outsiders back!

  10. danoregon says:

    It’s kind of funny when a company deeply in debt adds $6 billion more and complains about show production costs being out of whack.
    I’m debt-free, can I get the numbers of these bankers funding the deal?

  11. Sam says:

    Dear Sinclair and WGN: You just **** yourselves. When Underground finish this Wednesday, I will not watch this network ever again. I hope Outsiders and Underground will find a new tv network home like FX, A&E, TNT, or AMC.

  12. Toni pill says:

    RIP WGN. You will never draw the viewers with your new programs. Such a bad move getting rid of your top shows.

  13. Michael says:

    WGN and other Companies involved with this are a joke. Just for the series they have cancelled is unbelievable I mean truly unbelievable. Considering the shit other networks are thinking of renewing its just crazy!!!!!! ( American idol 😂😂😂 laughable!) Won’t be watching WGN again. Please please please would a network with sense pick up shows like Salem or Outsiders etc etc

  14. What a shame. WGN had some really good original shows as Manhattan,Salem, and outsiders. That channel just ruined t. v for ALOT of people for shame. Let’s hope the show underground can have better luck in finding a home with a better station.

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