×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

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.

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”)

More TV

  • Al Burton

    Al Burton, 'Jeffersons' and 'Diff’rent Strokes' Producer, Dies at 91

    Television producer and executive Al Burton, known for his work on “The Jeffersons” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” died Tuesday at his home in San Mateo, California. He was 91. Burton leaves behind a six-decade legacy of hit television shows that also included “One Day at a Time,” “Silver Spoons,” “Square Pegs” and “Facts of Life.” However, long [...]

  • Dwyane Wade Sets Multi-Year Development Deal

    Dwyane Wade Sets Multi-Year Development Deal at WarnerMedia

    Dwayne Wade is bouncing his way into WarnerMedia’s court. The retired NBA All Star has signed a multi-faceted, multi-year deal with the company, including a development deal via his 59th & Prairie Entertainment production banner. Part of the deal sees Wade sign on as a commentator at Turner Sports. He is set to make appearances [...]

  • Katie Couric Sheryl Sandberg

    Katie Couric Steamrolls Sheryl Sandberg in Roving Vanity Fair Summit Interview

    Sending a jolt through a luxurious and excessively polite afternoon in Beverly Hills, veteran journalist Katie Couric delivered a relentless series of hardball questions to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday. Speaking in conversation at the sixth annual Vanity Fair New Establishment summit at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Couric’s [...]

  • EVIL is a psychological mystery that

    CBS Renews 'Evil,' Orders Full Seasons of Four Other Freshman Shows

    CBS is doubling down on all its new shows. The network has renewed “Evil” for a second season, and handed out full-season orders to its other four freshman series, namely “All Rise,” “Carol’s Second Act,” “The Unicorn,” and “Bob Hearts Abishola.” “Evil” is set to conclude its 13-episode first season (creators Michelle and Robert King [...]

  • Jamie Lee Curtis

    Jamie Lee Curtis to Produce Military Drama With Put Pilot Order at Fox

    Jamie Lee Curtis is teaming up with April Fitzsimmons and Berlanti Productions for a drama project that has received a put pilot order at Fox. Titled “Chain of Command,” the one-hour project follows a young Air Force investigator with radical crime-solving methodology who returns to her hometown to join a military task force that doesn’t [...]

  • Michael MannLACMA: Art and Film Gala,

    TV News Roundup: Michael Mann to Direct and Executive Produce HBO Max's 'Tokyo Vice'

    In today’s TV news roundup, HBO Max names MIchael Mann as a director and executive producer of “Tokyo Vice” and Chip and Joanna Gaines announce the first original series coming to the couple’s Magnolia Network. DATES Netflix announced a six-episode docuseries centered on Nasty Cherry, the latest all-female group signed to Charli XCX’s label will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content