Tribune CEO Promises Growth for WGN America Despite Cable Woes

Peter Liguori - H 2014
AP Images/Invision

Peter Liguori - H 2014

"We're an 80-year-old new network," said Peter Liguori on Tuesday.

Tribune Media CEO Peter Liguori told some seemingly skeptical analysts that WGN America can grow its revenue and profit substantially even in an era where many cable networks are grappling with online competition and audience fragmentation.

WGN America began its transition from a superstation to a basic-cable offering a few years ago, and Liguori said that it's easier for a newcomer to grow than it is for a mature channel.

"We're an 80-year-old new network," he said Tuesday at the Deutsche Bank 2015 Media, Internet and Telecom Conference in Florida.

The CEO boasted that the launch of the show Salem was "just a little short of miraculous," given it attracted nearly 10 times the channel's average primetime audience. The first season of its other show, Manhattan, about matched the performance of AMC's first season of Mad Men, he said.

"We're going to go one original at a time," he said. In the channel's "fullest articulation," he said, it will have four original shows, each consisting of 13 one-hour episodes.

"We do not have a race to get there. We want success building on success," he said. 

Liguori said that typically a cable channel will spend 50 percent of its revenue on programming, and that's the goal for WGN America.

"That's kind of where you want to settle out," he said. "We're currently in a moment where we're filling the tank for the car to be able to go on that journey."