And now, just emerging from bankruptcy, Tribune has named a new board with a new CEO.
So who’s up for the challenge of taking over one of the world’s biggest media conglomerates?
Cher Calvin introduces is to media executive, Peter Liguori.
Television executive Peter Liguori was named the new chief executive of Tribune Co. Thursday, taking the reins of the reorganized Chicago-based media company weeks after its emergence from bankruptcy.
In a widely expected announcement, Liguori, 52, a former top executive at Fox Broadcasting and Discovery Communications, was confirmed by Tribune Co.’s new seven-member board, which met for the first time Thursday in Los Angeles.
Liguori said he looked forward to leading Tribune Co. into a new era, focusing on content development across all media platforms. And despite speculation by analysts and industry insiders that the company was unlikely to retain its full portfolio of TV stations and newspapers, Liguori said he is hoping to keep Tribune’s broadcasting and publishing businesses together under one roof.
“I don’t care if it’s newspapers or TV or digital operations or our other media assets: I’m hoping to make them work together,” Liguori said. “And I’m really interested in building the company through innovation and through commitment to our mission of creating compelling content and best-in-class services.”
Liguori replaces Eddy Hartenstein, who has been CEO of Tribune Co. since May 2011. Hartenstein will remain on the board and continue as publisher of the Los Angeles Times. He also will serve as special adviser to the office of CEO, according to Liguori.
“Eddy has done an exemplary job taking this company through some very, very rough times,” Liguori said. “He has done a very good job as the publisher of a key asset, and I will benefit from having his advice and counsel and institutional knowledge at my side.”
Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2008, saddled with a total of $13 billion in debt after real estate investor Sam Zell completed his $8.2 billion buyout less than one year earlier. It emerged from Chapter 11 on Dec. 31, 2012, with a healthy balance sheet, owned by its senior creditors: Oaktree Capital Management; Angelo, Gordon & Co.; and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Bruce Karsh, president of Los Angeles-based investment firm Oaktree, the largest Tribune Co. shareholder with about 23 percent of the equity, was named chairman of the new board, which also includes Liguori; former Yahoo interim CEO Ross Levinsohn; entertainment lawyer Craig Jacobson; Oaktree managing director Ken Liang; and Peter Murphy, a former strategy executive at Walt Disney Co.
A Bronx native and Yale graduate, Liguori is a former advertising executive who transitioned into television more than two decades ago. He is credited with turning cable channel FX into a programming powerhouse during his ascent to entertainment chief at News Corp.’s Fox Broadcasting.
More recently, he was chief operating officer at Discovery Communications Inc., where he helped oversee the rocky launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network.
He became interim CEO in 2011 after the previous executive was forced out; he left the company when Winfrey made herself CEO of OWN. Liguori has been 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.