Fox Television Network President Ed Wilson to Succeed John Reardon as President and CEO of Tribune’s Broadcast Group
By Ben Grossman & Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/3/2008
Fox Television Network president Ed Wilson will succeed John Reardon as president and CEO of Tribune’s broadcast group, according to sources with knowledge of the move. Reardon had been named to the position in November of 2005.
Tribune owns 23 TV stations. In December, Tribune and Local TV entered into an agreement to share services as part of a “third-party broadcast-management company” for their collective TV properties. Randy Michaels was named CEO of that joint division.
Tribune, Local TV Partner to Manage Stations
The new company is designed to create efficiencies through pooled resources for both company’s stations; no word yet on potential layoffs.
By Jon Hemingway -- Broadcasting & Cable
Tribune Co. and Local TV have struck an agreement to create a third-party management company that will handle the back-office and administrative work for both company’s broadcast stations.
The new company will be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tribune and will be headed up by Randy Michaels, who was named Thursday as CEO of Tribune’s Interactive and Broadcasting unit, including the company’s 23 large and mid-sized television stations. Michaels was previously the CEO of Local TV, which owns nine small and mid-sized market stations. Bobby Lawrence was named the new CEO of Local TV.
Local TV LLC is a broadcast holding company created in 2007 to acquire nine heritage television stations in eight mid-sized markets. Local TV is owned by Oak Hill Capital Partners.
The new company is designed to create efficiencies through pooled resources for both company’s stations.
“Tribune and Local TV expect to realize significant savings in management, technology, and other overhead costs,” Michaels said in a statement, “Things like research and development and automation technology are more efficient on a large platform. All of the stations get to share the benefits. We are going to find new ways to operate smarter, cheaper, and more efficiently.”
Tribune has not said whether the changes will result in staff cuts.
A call to the company was not returned at press time. The new management company will provide common and transparent administrative services for both company’s stations and may open it business up to third-party stations in the future. Tribune was taken private through an $8.7 billion deal led by real estate mogul Sam Zell which closed Thursday.
In a presentation following the close of the deal, Zell said the company had no plans to sell any assets other than those previously announced: the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field and related real estate assets, as well as its stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Those assets are expected to be sold in the first half of 2008.
Last month Tribune received waivers from the FCC for five markets where it has newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership, ahead of the FCC's vote to allow cross-ownership under certain circumstances in just the top 20 markets.
Bobby Lawrence, the president and chief operating officer at Covington, Ohio-based Local TV, succeeds Randy Michaels, who on Dec. 20 was appointed executive vice president and CEO of interactive and broadcasting at Tribune.
The partnership forms a company that will provide shared services to all of the combined 32 stations owned by Local TV and Tribune. It will function as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tribune, the owner of KTLA, and provide back-office services and other functions to the stations.
"Tribune and Local TV expect to realize significant savings in management, technology, and other overhead costs," Michaels said in a press release. "Things like research and development and automation technology are more efficient on a large platform. All of the stations get to share the benefits."
Tribune and Local TV will maintain their own board of directors, management, financial structure, shareholders, programming and network affiliations. The common functions across corporate headquarters will be combined.
The first order of business will be back-office and administrative functions, Lawrence said in the release. "Then we will move to creating specialized knowledge teams for TV assets, addressing market-specific challenges and opportunities with special swat teams, developing vertical and homegrown content, and finding new ways to deploy capital."
The management company also will look towards serving potential third-party stations.
Local TV was formed in January by Oak Hill Capital Partners in order to purchase the assets of Broadcast Media Group. Those assets included nine TV stations owned by the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT).
Lawrence and Michaels have been long-time friends and business partners. Lawrence began his broadcast career more than 35 years ago at Taft Broadcasting. Lawrence, in partnership with Michaels, subsequently built several broadcast companies, including Jacor Communications, which in 1999 sold to Clear Channel Communications.
Tribune owns the Los Angeles Times, 10 other daily newspapers, 23 television stations and Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs.Fox TV executive named chief of Tribune Broadcasting. Ed Wilson will oversee the company's TV stations, including KTLA Channel 5
Wilson, currently president of News Corp.'s Fox TV network, is among the first high-level appointments for Tribune Co. Chairman Sam Zell and the company's executive vice president, Randy Michaels. Chicago-based Tribune was taken private in late December in an $8.2-billion buyout engineered by Zell and made in conjunction with an employee stock ownership plan. Tribune owns the Los Angeles Times and KTLA-TV Channel 5.
Wilson's last day with Fox will be Friday. He will join Tribune next Monday, replacing John E. Reardon, who spent 22 years with Tribune, including eight as general manager of KTLA. Reardon, 54, is expected to leave the company.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Wilson, 50, said in an interview. "There are going to be a lot of challenges as we position ourselves for the future. We have to have the strongest local TV news, we have to have the best salespeople out there and we have to work with our entertainment partners to produce better programming."
Long the cash cows of the industry, TV stations have seen their profit margins decline as advertisers steer more of their dollars to the Internet. Wilson's priority will be to boost ratings and ad sales at the stations within Tribune's group, one of the nation's largest.
His timing might be fortuitous because, despite signs of an economic recession, TV stations are likely to rake in much of the $2.8 billion expected to be spent this year by presidential candidates and other political campaigns. That should make up for any cutbacks in ad spending by car makers, retailers and movie studios.
"This is not a dying business. Local television still has viability," Wilson said. "But we have to be more aggressive about our approach to the Internet and more aggressive about providing information."
Wilson advocates greater collaboration between Tribune's stations and newspapers, saying that KTLA should benefit from the resources of The Times, particularly its entertainment coverage.
Another mission is boosting ratings for the CW television network, which provides programs for 14 of Tribune's TV stations, including KTLA. Ratings for the network, a joint venture between CBS Corp. and Warner Bros., are down 21% this season in its key demographic of viewers aged 18 to 34.
Meanwhile, local newscasts, which target an older audience, are the most profitable programs for most TV stations. Being a news leader, Wilson said, should improve ratings.
"They have to be the local station," he said. "And that means doing things like carrying the Hollywood Christmas parade, covering local news and local sports."
Despite concerns within the company about more cost cutting, Wilson said Zell and Michaels had indicated he would have the resources he needed. "They have given me every indication that the support we need will be there," he said.
The Arkansas native started in television 28 years ago as a sales trainee for Viacom in New York. He ran sales for an ABC affiliate in Little Rock, Ark., and then rose through the ranks at several major TV companies. He went to Fox in 2004, and was chief liaison for Fox's affiliated stations.
Wilson said although he would miss the team at Fox, he had always wanted to manage a station group. "I like the station side," he said. "I think this is going to work out well."