Tribune Media CEO Promises Programming Costs Will Level Off: ‘Had to Reach a Critical Mass’

Peter Liguori’s longterm goal is to reinvest half of WGN America’s revenue back into content

Peter Liguori

Tribune Media’s programming expense is rising at a rapid rate, but CEO Peter Liguori said Tuesday that the trend won’t continue for long.

“It kind of had to reach a critical mass, and we’re clearly approaching that,” he told media analysts and journalists on a Tuesday morning conference call.

In the third quarter of 2015, Tribune’s programming expenses rose to $116.3 million versus $93.9 million for the comparable 90-day period last year. That’s an increase of nearly 24 percent year over year. Taking into account the entirety of 2015’s fiscal nine months, that line item has jumped about 29 percent.

Recently, Tribune invested in three new pieces of syndicated programming: “Blue Bloods,” “Person of Interest,” and “Elementary.” It also put on “Salem” and “Manhattan” from in-house Tribune Studios, and contracted elsewhere for “Outsiders” and “Underground.”

Combined, Liguori referred to his block as “a very wholesome amount of programming” — one that required a big financial investment to continue the company’s branding progress. It’s not easy — nor cheap — to launch a new cable network, which the company is doing via its WGN America conversion.

Eventually, the top executive foresees programming expenses reaching and sitting stably around 50 percent of WGNA’s revenue.

Earlier on Tuesday, Tribune Media released its Q3 2015 financials, nailing Wall Street’s modest earnings forecast but missing the revenue mark. Profit slipped about $10 million from the same three-month period in 2014. Wall Street didn’t like what it saw, and TRCO stock dropped about 6 percent immediately.

Tribune Media split from the company’s publishing arm last year.