working since July as a New York-based media consultant for private equity
firm Carlyle Group.
Liguori said job one will be assessing Tribune Co.'s diverse portfolio of assets, which include 23 television stations; national cable channel WGN America; WGN Radio; eight daily newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times; and other properties, all of which the reorganization plan valued at $4.5 billion after cash distributions and new financing.
Despite its roots as a newspaper company, broadcasting has supplanted the declining publishing segment as the core profit center for the company. Liguori acknowledged broadcasting will be a focus going forward, but not necessarily at the expense of Tribune Co.'s newspaper holdings.
"I'm tasked to be a chief executive officer and a general businessman, and I'm going to take the same principles that I've used in broadcasting, and (extend) them out to all of our business," he said.
Liguori became president of Fox's FX Networks in 1998, when it was a small basic cable channel airing mostly reruns. Elevated to CEO in 2001, he remade FX by offering edgy original programming such as the "The Shield," "Nip/Tuck" and "Rescue Me," creating a string of first-run successes.
Unlocking the value of WGN America, which lags top cable networks such as TBS and FX, will be a priority, Liguori said.
"In this very co-dependent media environment, it's not just sitting there and focusing on how quickly we could grow the bottom line," Liguori said. "The bottom line is the outcome of great content, great marketing, which will drive great ratings, which will attract advertisers, which will further our relationship with affiliates, and will lead to natural growth based on the fact that we have high levels of usership."
Content development will also be key for Tribune Co.'s other media properties, including newspapers, Liguori said.
"I look at the newspapers and appreciate what we do for the local communities, and do recognize that the newspaper business is challenged right now," he said. "But how do we innovate, how do we go out and create stories, create coverage, servicing community and spreading that content across all media platforms?"
In the face of digital competition and sagging publishing industry revenue, Tribune Co.'s newspaper holdings have declined to $623 million in total value, according to financial adviser Lazard. With some newspaper owners expressing interest in acquisitions, Liguori said: "I have a fiduciary responsibility to hear those out."
"Those would be evaluated on an as-come basis. However, with all that being said, it's my job to make sure it doesn't stop me from focusing on our day-to-day business and growing the assets that we have."
He added: "Newspapers are a core part of our business."
Further, Liguori said all of Tribune Co.'s assets will be assessed, with an eye toward maximizing performance, and ultimately, value for the company. That includes real estate holdings such as Tribune Tower in Chicago and Times Mirror Square in Los Angeles, which were on the block until they were taken off the market in 2009.
"In places like Chicago and LA, particularly, there's a bunch of underutilized space that's being leased and has high demand and getting very good rates," Liguori said. "As I look toward the real estate assets, I've just got to ascertain what the value of the properties are and are we best utilizing them."
With a clean balance sheet and the company operating profitably, Liguori said strategic acquisitions will also be on the table, as Tribune aspires to be more of a growth company going forward.
"I think it really changes the driving mission of Tribune versus the past four years, where it undoubtedly had to be a bit shackled," he said. "I look forward to seeing what possibilities are out there and with great financial rigor and diligence, determining whether or not acquisitions would help us."
While the first board meeting was held in Los Angeles, Liguori said it doesn't presage a westward migration for the 166-year-old Tribune Co.
"The corporate office will continue to be in Chicago, and I'm going to be spending considerable time there," Liguori said. "There's great tradition and great history of Tribune being an iconic brand in Chicago."
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