The CW Renews Affiliate Deal with Tribune

Multiyear Pact Keeps Network On the Air in 28 Million Homes

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Melissa Benoist as Supergirl and Grant Gustin as The Flash. 'Supergirl' is moving to the CW, which already carries 'The Flash,' from CBS this fall.
Melissa Benoist as Supergirl and Grant Gustin as The Flash. 'Supergirl' is moving to the CW, which already carries 'The Flash,' from CBS this fall. Credit: Robert Voets/Warner Bros. Entertainment

While its ad sales team waits for agencies to begin registering their budgets ahead of the summer upfront bazaar, the CW on Monday wrapped up a key piece of business, locking in a long-term renewal of its affiliation deal with Tribune Broadcasting.

The agreement ensures that the CW will remain on the air on 12 Tribune stations across the country, including in the top markets of New York (WPIX) and Los Angeles (KTLA). Tribune markets cover one-quarter of the U.S. and serve 28.3 million households; New York and L.A. alone account for nearly half of the station group's reach (12.9 million homes, or 46%).

Other Tribune markets include No. 5 Dallas-Ft. Worth; No. 7 Washington, DC; and No. 10 Houston.

One big Tribune station didn't re-up with the CW, however, as WGN in Chicago, the No. 3 market, plans to restructure itself as an independent. As of Sept. 1, the CW will switch to the Fox TV-owned WPWR-TV, a MyNetworkTV station that resides much further down the dial (channel 50) than WGN (channel 9).

WGN's sports obligations often conflicted with the CW's prime time programming. Over the years, many of the network's original series have been preempted by WGN's coverage of the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks.

The original Tribune-CW deal was set to expire in August. The renewal comes just days after the CW presented its fall programming lineup to media buyers and advertisers in New York.

"We are extremely pleased to continue our strong relationship with the CW," said Tribune Media President-CEO Peter Liguori, in a statement announcing the affiliate renewal. "The prime-time entertainment programming offered by the CW drives a passionate and loyal audience to our stations and we are looking forward to a lot of success."

Mr. Liguori's statement offered a far more generous assessment of the CW's value than remarks he made just two years ago. The station boss told investors at a May 2014 MoffettNathanson media summit that he was less than enthralled with the direction the network was headed, criticizing the CW for programming to young adults, or as he phrased it, "people who don't watch television."

While Mr. Liguori may have used the forum as a means to try and create leverage over the CW, his read on the overall strength of the network was off the mark. As network ad sales chief Rob Tuck said during Thursday's upfront pitch, "the CW had its best season ever" in 2015-16, thanks in large part to its DC Comics adaptations. The addition of "Supergirl" and Greg Berlanti's "Riverdale" should only drive more viewers to the network, which now reaches a much more stable core of viewers in the 18-to-49 demo.

As it gets set to mark its 10th anniversary in September, the CW's originals now do better in the broader 18-to-49 demographic than 18-to-34-year-olds. For example, its top-rated series, "The Flash," will close out its second season with an average draw of a 1.4 among the 18-to-49 crowd, a good two-tenths of a point ahead of its 18-to-34 average. The CW began shifting its guarantees to 18-to-49 deliveries a few years back.

The network's gender skew is also now 50-50, as opposed to the 70-30 female-male split it reached back in 2011, and its median age in C3 is now around 43 years old, up from 33 at launch.

The CW is on track to close out the season tied for fifth place in the demo, as both it and Univision are averaging a 0.8 rating in prime. That puts the network a full ratings point behind ABC and a point-and-a-half behind this season's champ, CBS.

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