Tribune Media CEO: Appealing to Middle America More Important Than Winning Emmys

AP Images/Invision
Peter Ligouri

"Emmys don't necessarily create return on investment," the exec said on Tuesday.

The fairly new basic cable network WGN America is less interested in winning awards than it is in appealing to average Americans not living in New York and Los Angeles, said Peter Liguori, CEO of parent company Tribune Media.

"If you look at HBO and FX, there's a big focus on Emmys," Liguori said Tuesday. "Emmys don't necessarily create return on investment. Those types of shows play to the coasts. I want to be able to create great programming that creates buzz that is accessible to middle America."

Liguori, who was speaking at the Jefferies 2015 Global TMT Conference, reiterated his desire to have four original shows on WGN America within five years, up from two today — Salem and Manhattan.

Eventually, WGN America will spend up to 50 percent of its revenue on content, half on originals and half on syndicated shows, and the importance of the latter is not to be overlooked. The ratings for Blue Bloods, for example, are up 50 percent, and Liguori expects even more from Person of Interest and Elementary, given the network has more exclusive syndication rights on those than it does Blue Bloods.

"Those shows will drive the bottom line," he said of syndicated shows. "I'm really looking forward to the fourth quarter this year for WGNA: We're going to change out two-thirds of our primetime, Blue Bloods will continue, we have season two of Manhattan, we'll introduce exclusive Person of Interest and Elementary [episodes], and our ratings should go up by 50 percent or more. That's how you transform a network."

WGN America used to be a superstation but began its transition into a basic cable network three years ago.

"You don't brand with genre, you brand with expectation, tone and manner," Liguori said of WGN America. "We want to create high quality programs that create quality noise that's accessible to middle America."

Tribune also owns more than three dozen TV stations, and Liguori said he expects to make a killing in political advertising with them during the 2016 presidential campaign. He said 13 of the stations are in swing states and that with looser campaign finance laws and the lack of an incumbent candidate, spending could soar more than 60 percent compared to 2012 to $5 billion, and Tribune should capture $200 million, up from $150 million four years ago.