For the first time in 14 years, there’s a network-owned TV station in Utah. But it’s different this time because a network didn’t buy KUCW-Channel 30; the station’s owner bought a network.
Well, “bought” might not be exactly the right word for it, because the Nexstar Media Group was essentially given The CW by the network’s previous owners.
That’s right. Paramount Global (the parent company of CBS) and Warner Bros. Discovery (the parent company of Warner Media) turned over 75% of The CW to Nexstar. OK, so Nexstar is assuming between $100 million and $130 million of The CW’s debt.
And the deal appears to make sense because Nexstar owns the nation’s biggest broadcast TV station group — it owns or operates about 200 stations, including 37 CW affiliates that account for about a third of the network’s national reach.
As for the network’s previous owners, they pretty much removed an albatross from around their necks. (Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery each retained a 12.5% interest in The CW.) As a network, The CW has lost money since the day it was founded 16 years ago out of a merger of UPN and The WB.
But, indirectly, it made its owners a ton of money for many years. To put it simply, CBS and Warner Bros. produced all the shows for The CW, which got extremely low ratings on the network. But CBS and Warner Bros. sold those shows in syndication, in foreign markets and to streamers — including a billion-dollar deal with Netflix — and made boatloads of money that more than offset the losses by the network.
However, that business model has changed. Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery both have their own streaming services now, so they’re producing shows for themselves. And streamers operate globally, so sales to foreign broadcasters are ending.
What does this mean for Utah viewers?
There’s going to be a major change in the kinds of programs that air on The CW. The network’s programming has been aimed at viewers ages 18-34, which, it turns out, is kind of nuts because the average age of its viewers is 58.
That is not a typo.
If you do watch The CW, chances are that some (or all) of the shows you watch are ended or ending.
The CW has been known as the network that rarely canceled anything, no matter how bad the ratings. (Remember, CBS and Warner Bros. were selling these shows elsewhere.) That changed this spring, when the network’s management — knowing that this sale was in the works — took out the ax and swung it at “Batwoman,” “Charmed,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Dynasty,” “In the Dark,” “Legacies,” “Naomi,” “Roswell, New Mexico” and “Tom Swift.”
In addition, both “The Flash” and “Riverdale” will air their final seasons during the upcoming 2022-23 TV year.
So expect fewer shows aimed at younger viewers, fewer superhero shows, and more shows like “Walker” and its upcoming prequel, “Walker: Independence,” which appeal to older viewers.
What about the budgets?
Nexstar vows to make The CW profitable by 2025, while spending $2 billion a year on programming. CBS and Warner Bros. will continue to produce shows for the network, but Nexstar will also look to other studios for shows.
But there was this rather alarming statement from Nexstar CEO Perry Sook: “We plan to apply the same strict financial standards to operating The CW as we apply to our other businesses.”
There are a lot of good things you can say about Nexstar, chief among them that — unlike Sinclair — it doesn’t push a political agenda. But Nexstar also has a reputation for being cheap.
And you don’t have to look far to see examples of that. Just tune in to a newscast on KTVX-Channel 4.
Can Nexstar make it work?
Well … maybe. But cutting costs and airing cheap programming is probably the only way that’s going to happen. And will viewers watch cheap programming?
Nexstar isn’t having much success with its other national outlet. It converted what was once WGN America into an all-news channel, NewsNation, which is averaging about 50,000 viewers in prime time.
That is not a typo. And, yes, a lot of local stations across the country average more viewers than that for their late newscasts.
What’s in a name?
Despite the change in ownership, there are no plans to change the name of The CW — the “C” comes from CBS; the “W” from Warner Bros.
It’s not a unique situation. FX, which is Fox without the “O,” now belongs to Disney.
Utah’s other network-owned stations
• KSTU-Channel 13 was owned by Fox from 1990 to 2008. It was sold to a private equity firm in 2008, and then to Tribune Media in 2012. When Tribune Media (which is in no way associated with The Salt Lake Tribune) was sold to Nexstar in 2018, it sold KSTU to the E.W. Scripps Company to comply with FCC ownership rules.
Nexstar already owned both KTVX-Channel 4 and KUCW-Channel 30 in the Salt Lake market.
• In 1994, NBC bought controlling interest in KUTV-Channel 2. Later that year, it announced that KUTV would be traded to CBS and would become Salt Lake City’s CBS affiliate as part of a trade involving stations in Philadelphia, Denver and Miami.
That’s when KSL-Channel 5 became an NBC affiliate.
CBS immediately turned around and sold KUTV to Westinghouse Broadcasting; in 1995, Westinghouse merged with CBS, so KUTV became a CBS-owned station again.
CBS sold KUTV to a private equity firm in 2007. Nexstar managed Channel 2 for several years, until the station was sold to the Sinclair Broadcast Group in 2012.
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