Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Zell's Tribune starts to tinker

Note to KTLA: the TV station that Sam Zell's Tribune company owns in South Florida is moving in with the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel newspaper. Zell has said the company would start to experiment with new ways of doing things at its smaller properties before importing them to Los Angeles etal. Memo from Zell exec Ed Wilson after the jump.

Also: Zell is getting less ink for being profane as he continues to visit Tribune properties and that's not necessarily a plus, says Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal:

Because what's being said as he and Randy Michaels, Tribune Co.'s chief executive of Internet and broadcasting, continue their road show is still newsworthy—even if it has nothing to do with cursing, Cubs and Wrigley Field....

"Tribune was a very old company. It was very tradition bound," Zell said at WGNO-TV in New Orleans earlier this month, deriding predecessors as "sleepy."

Zell has previously sounded exasperated that Channel 5 and the L.A. Times don't do more together.

Wilson memo:

Today marks the beginning of a bold new era for Tribune Broadcasting—we’re taking the unprecedented step of joining the print and broadcast operations of WSFL in South Florida with those of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. For the first time ever, we’ll have all our media properties in this region under one roof in Ft. Lauderdale.

And that is great news for consumers and advertisers. It will give us the chance to develop new content, programming and sales opportunities in such areas as fashion, food, travel, entertainment and lifestyle. It will give advertisers a single point of contact and a way of buying media efficiently across all our properties in South Florida.

Since we didn’t think he had enough to do while running two newspapers, Sun-Sentinel publisher Howard Greenberg, who is also serving as interim publisher of the Orlando Sentinel, will assume the additional responsibilities of general manager at WSFL. Also joining the new leadership team at WSFL is Allyson Meyers, who will serve as station manager.

Howard knows the region better than anyone; Ally knows TV sales and operations. Together they’ll make a great team....

Ed Roderick

Zell ready to flex Tribune Co. muscle

Now that Tribune Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Sam Zell's not swearing so much in his meetings with staff, his national tour of the Chicago Tribune parent's properties hasn't gotten much attention.

Which is too bad.

Because what's being said as he and Randy Michaels, Tribune Co.'s chief executive of Internet and broadcasting, continue their road show is still newsworthy—even if it has nothing to do with cursing, Cubs and Wrigley Field.

Like a possible affiliation change for Tribune Co.'s San Diego station, KSWB-TV, from The CW to Fox that initially was shot down by their predecessors atop the Chicago-based media concern.

Or Zell's statement that previous Tribune Co. management nixed an opportunity to invest in Google, although it's not clear what opportunity he means. And how the old regime vetoed spending for high-definition capability for Tribune's ABC station in New Orleans when it was building a new facility there, which the current management isn't rushing to invest in, either.

Then there's the revamp of Tribune television stations' Web sites in the coming weeks using a platform used by Toys "R" Us in a bid to be more flexible, functional, attractive and e-commerce-friendly.

"Tribune was a very old company. It was very tradition bound," Zell said at WGNO-TV in New Orleans earlier this month, deriding predecessors as "sleepy."

A Tribune spokesman indicated the statements of Zell and Michaels speak for themselves. Former Tribune Co. Chairman and CEO Dennis FitzSimons and former Tribune Broadcasting chief John Reardon declined comment.

According to Zell, old Tribune management rejected an invitation to switch affiliation from The CW to Fox in San Diego, where Fox parent News Corp. now has an affiliate that transmits from over the border in Tijuana, Mexico.

"The good news is, Randy and I found out about it four or five weeks ago," Zell said during a visit last week to Tribune's KPLR-TV in St. Louis.

"I called Rupert [Murdoch of News Corp.], and I said, 'Rupert, what the [bad word] is going on?' ... He says, 'Well, why didn't you take it when we offered it in the first place?' I said, 'Well, you didn't call me. You called those [less bad word].' "

So, trading "Gossip Girl" and "Smallville" for " American Idol" and the National Football League?

Yeah, that's a tough call.

"It isn't that they were happy with CW. [They] were afraid to upset them," Michaels said.

Now how this will play out and on what timetable is unclear. Tribune has a contract with The CW, a joint venture of CBS Corp. and Time Warner's Warner Bros. Executives at CW couldn't be reached.

"But the contract has us committed to them and has commitments from them to us," Zell said. "There seems to be some question as to whether those commitments have been fulfilled or not."

The difference between the old Tribune and the new Tribune, according to Michaels, is how the company flexes its muscles.

"We're going to exercise some clout," Michaels said in St. Louis. "It's crazy that we let them give us shows that 18-to-24-year-old girls watch [as a lead-in] into the news. Someone sat down and said, 'We're going to come up with a program that no one who likes the news could possibly watch' and then they give it to us. What are they thinking? … We deserve to have something better than the [offal] they're feeding us."

Although Tribune Co. has six Fox stations and 14 CW affiliates among its 23 stations, Zell simply doesn't believe the company leveraged its position properly.

"I don't think Rupert Murdoch paid much attention to whoever called him from the old Tribune and that's a huge difference," he said in New Orleans. "We've got the muscle and we've got to use it."

He swears he will.

Promotional material: Hanke Gratteau is the Chicago Tribune's new deputy managing editor, news. The paper's associate managing editor for metropolitan news since 2002, Gratteau was an assistant to the late columnist Mike Royko early in a career in which she was a reporter, columnist, investigative team leader and city editor. She is married to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown.


In New York, we need to deal with the fact that the WPIX lease in the Daily News Building ends in 2010. We need a midtown facility with ground floor studio space an additional studios to begin to cash in on increased NY based production. We need more and better producers, writers, etc. We need cash for innovative original programming, events like parades, 4th of July fireworks, and for the rights fees for more sports programing like Football, Basketball, Soccer ,Hockey, NASCAR, and Horse Racing. We need to educate our new owners on the value of trusting and nurturing their AFTRA, DGA, IATSE, IBEW, and Newspaper Guild employees at all Tribune TV stations.


[Former Tribune Co. Chairman and CEO Dennis FitzSimons declined comment.]]

...that's because he's busy counting the $48 million he walked away with.

Smart move on Tribune's part. Companies become successful because they are aggressive and passionate. There hasn't been passion in the hallways of the Tribune Tower since the Colonel ran the place 60 years ago. Nice to see these guys have a 2008 model and not a 1970's model.

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