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Did Donald Trump And Sony Play A Role In Peter Liguori’s Decision To Leave Tribune?

Deadline logo Deadline 1/25/2017 David Lieberman
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The timing of Peter Liguori’s announcement this morning about his plan to leave Tribune Media might be a surprise. But the development shouldn’t be.

Tribune has been open for a sale for nearly a year and will find it much easier to secure a buyer with the Trump administration now in charge of communications policy.

Some people close to Liguori say that the exec who helped to turn FX into a success for Fox and helped Discovery launch its OWN partnership with Oprah Winfrey also has been itching for a change.

The growth of digital programmers including Netflix and Amazon, and intensifying competition for pay TV eyeballs, complicated his efforts to turn Tribune into a major producer and former superstation WGN America into a must-have basic cable channel.

Its Q4 target demo, full day ratings were down 19% vs the period in 2015, Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker says citing Nielsen data. The company says that Nielsen data also show that WGN was up 24% among 25-to-54 year olds in prime time, and up 43% among 18-to-49 year olds in the evening period.

That led the company to focus more on its TV stations, a business not in Liguori’s sweet spot.

Although Liguori “has been known for his programming expertise with FX and [Discovery], the stock has been under a lot of pressure given the troubles at WGN America,” Ryvicker said.

It escaped no one’s attention that Sony’s board last month hired Liguori to be an adviser. That took place just before Sony Entertainment announced that its chief, Michael Lynton, is leaving and will temporarily be replaced by his boss: Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai.

Among the ideas floating through Hollywood: Liguori might urge Sony to unite its studio with Lionsgate. That could put it into the orbit of Liberty Media’s John Malone, who’s also a major force at Charter Communications, Discovery Communications, Liberty Global, SiriusXM and Live Nation.

Tribune, for its part, said Liguori’s decision to leave and to advise Sony are “totally separate and independent.”

Related Trump’s FCC Chairman Pick Ajit Pai Wins Industry Cheers, Consumer Activist Jeers

He’s leaving just as Tribune’s sale prospects appear to be brightening. President Trump’s newly designated FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, is expected do away with rules that have put the company off limits to many potential buyers.

It’s been a hard sell because Tribune’s stations already hit the FCC ceiling that limits a group to reach no more than 39% of the nation’s households. (Tribune actually reaches 44%, but the FCC calculation cuts in half the number of homes reached by UHF stations.)

That 39% cap probably will be lifted, Cowen and Co’s Paul Gallant said. He noted that last year Pai chastised the FCC for keeping the limit “instead of loosening the Local Television Ownership Rule to account for the increasing competition to broadcast television stations.”

The change, the analyst said, “would significantly benefit companies like Sinclair, Nexstar, Tegna, Tribune, Gray, CBS, Fox and others” who could become either sellers or buyers.

Others also sense an opportunity. For example, former Sony TV chairman Steve Mosko has hired a banker to explore a purchase of Tribune — although it’s unclear whether he will make a formal bid.

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