As it transitions to new ownership, the CW will likely not look dramatically different in the near term, but Nexstar Media Group intends to turn it into a more broad-audience and cost-conscious broadcast network.
Executives articulated some of their initial plans during a 15-minute conference call with Wall Street analysts, though the presentation included only prepared remarks and no Q&A session.
After Nexstar CEO Perry Sook reaffirmed the rationale for the deal, which will see the company absorb the CW’s debt but not pay any cash or stock up front, other executives delivered more tangible news.
CFO Lee Ann Gliha said the goal would be to make the CW profitable by 2025.
“It’s no secret that the CW is not profitable,” she said, “but this is not typical for fully-distributed broadcast or cable networks. In fact, according to SNL Kagan data, no other broadcast network operates at an ongoing loss.”
One key step on the path to profit would be dramatically cutting expenses. “We expect to invest a low 9-figure amount over this 3-year period as we implement our plan,” Gliha said. “We view this amount as a proxy for a purchase price – or an investment made over time — rather than an ongoing drag on cash flow. You know us. We are profit and cash flow focused and expect this asset to achieve profitability.”
Nexstar President and COO Tom Carter said Paramount and WBD will continue to produce scripted originals for the network, but he said that arrangement would be “primarily” for 2022-23. Beyond that, Nexstar “will have the option to extend the partnership,” but nothing on that score is guaranteed.
While the remarks didn’t include too many specifics, Carter signaled clearly that the focus will be on retooling the CW, specifically its previous cost structure under founding partners CBS and Warner Bros. In many cases, as suppliers as well as network owners, those companies saw more financial upside in programming shows that could be sold at great margins to subscription streaming outlets. The CW discontinued its longtime output deal with Netflix in 2019 as both parent companies stepped up their respective investments in new SVOD offerings.
“Our approach will be unlike other broadcast network owners,” Carter said. The company would develop its programming “without a dual agenda of greenlighting programming with potentially to cross over to SVOD.”
The demographic focus of the CW will also change over time, Carter said. Historically, shows like Riverdale, All American, Arrow and Supernatural have focused on viewers in their teens through their 30s. The reality, though, is that the average CW viewer is 58 years old, and Carter said the new era will reflect that.
He forecast “lower unscripted costs” and the addition of more syndicated fare.
Citing Kagan research, he said the CW spends “almost twice” what its broadcast network peers do on programming, a disparity that Nexstar plans to eliminate.
Carter didn’t offer any numbers in terms of efficiencies or cost savings, but he said areas like “corporate overhead, digital infrastructure, advertising sales and content and programming acquisition” would have potential for meaningful expense reductions.
Shares in Nexstar pulled back 1% early in the session, trading at around $201. The stock recently established an all-time high of $204.62.