Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The rebranding of Superstation WGN—Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co.'s sleepy national channel—as WGN America is likely a sound decision.
It's definitely a radio decision.
Its new slogan "TV You Can't Ignore," introduced in a soft launch at dawn over the federal holiday Monday, echoes Jacor Communications' "The Noise You Can't Ignore" when Tribune Co. chiefs Sam Zell and Randy Michaels ran the radio chain later swallowed by Clear Channel Communications.
WGN America's new "eyes" logo, which resembles the one used for much of the '90s by cable's The Movie Channel, was the inspiration of Tribune Co. Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams. The former radio consultant wanted the channel to look more like an album cover. It resembles the eyes of the woman on Duran Duran's "Rio" album, but Abrams said he was just trying to help the channel break from traditional TV.
Sean Compton, a former Clear Channel exec recruited to tend to Tribune TV programming, meanwhile is repackaging reruns and old movies and giving away prizes via WGNAmerica.com.
"Here I am doing contesting and theming, he's doing album covers, and we're putting 'WKRP' on the air," Compton said on what might as well be two-fer Tuesday of the cable and satellite channel that can be seen locally through DirecTV.
Hire enough radio executives and maybe this was bound to happen. But something had to happen.
The national channel, stripped of WGN-Ch. 9's CW fare and most of the Chicago station's syndicated lineup, has underperformed even worse than the famously futile Tribune-owned Chicago Cubs that have been its chief attraction.
While one-time superstation peer TBS in Atlanta has flourished, Superstation WGN foundered.
"[TBS] makes $489 million a year. We make $80 [million], and if we didn't have the Cubs, we'd make $20 [million], and yet the asset is there," Zell said during last month's visit to WGN. "Everybody [sees] the superstation as a giant turkey that could be an enormous asset, but there's never been an effort to develop it. We're going to develop it."
Compton said the new brand, look and approach were introduced without fanfare because it's going to be a while before there's much to shout about, but the changes have begun for what he hopes will be a channel from and for the nation's midsection.
The first major shift will come June 8, when WGN America introduces what will be billed as "Out of Sight Retro Night." It will be a weekly night of reruns a la Weigel Broadcasting's Me-TV and Viacom cable's TV Land. Handling announcing chores will be radio old-timer Casey Kasem.
By the end of the summer, the plan is to introduce an original program. And within 18 months or so, Compton hopes the nation will barely recognize the channel.
"It's kind of like that girl in high school who's just plain. Then she goes off to college, and four years later she's stunning. That's what we hope for," Compton said.
"We're known for the Cubs and some other programming that we've had for some time and moved around. But we want to become that girl you look at after four years and say, 'Damn.' "
Friedman not a free man: Andy Friedman, an Internet exec at the center of a federal lawsuit Clear Channel filed last week alleging he might take company secrets to his new job with Tribune Co., was hit Tuesday with a 10-day restraining order to stop him from helping Tribune with content.
Clear Channel seems determined to stem the steady flow of former personnel to Tribune Co.
Posted by Robert Daraio at 9:56 AM