According to a Wednesday night report from The Wall Street Journal, AT&T and ViacomCBS are exploring a sale of The CW and according to sources, Nexstar is the leading suitor to buy the network.
As of an owner of 197 stations, Nexstar owns more CW affiliates than any other group, including the two biggest markets: New York’s WPIX (through Mission Broadcasting) and KTLA Los Angeles. Nexstar also owns CW affiliate KDAF in its home market of Dallas-Fort Worth. The report states there are “many suitors” but Nexstar is in the most advanced talks to possibly buy a majority stake in the network with ViacomCBS and AT&T’s WarmerMedia retained as minority owners. Both are currently 50/50 partners in the network.
AT&T is currently spinning off WarnerMedia into its own company and merging with Discovery. While Warner is not in the TV station ownership business, ViacomCBS owns several CW affiliates including those in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh.
The CW began as a joint venture of TimeWarner (now WarnerMedia) and CBS Corp. (now ViacomCBS) in September 2006, merging Warner’s The WB and CBS’ UPN networks as both launched within days of one another in January 1995. The CW primarily targets teens and young adult audiences – a rapidly declining sector in linear network TV as they shift their viewing preferences to streaming. Numerous CW series currently run on Netflix and HBO Max, the latter owned by WarnerMedia (ViacomCBS owns rival Paramount Plus.)
Former WGN owner Tribune Media once had a stake in The WB but divested after the network closed; Nexstar bought Tribune in 2019.
Nexstar’s name coming up in this report is surprising; the station group is focusing on NewsNation, the languishing cable news network once-known as WGN America. If successful, they could reunite The CW with Nexstar’s WGN-TV, who was an affiliate of the network from 2006 to 2016. The CW then shifted to Fox-owned WPWR-TV and in 2019, to Weigel’s WCIU-TV. It’s too early to speculate on any other affiliate changes, but a few could be in the offering. In 1994, Fox shook up the television landscape by convincing twelve Big 3 affiliates owned by New World Communications to ditch their heritage networks and join them. Of those twelve, eight were CBS stations.
Currently, WGN’s weeknight schedule consists of off-network sitcoms black-ish, The Goldbergs, Young Sheldon, and Last Man Standing with Friends airing on Saturday Nights. WGN dropped CW programming in 2016 in order to focus on local sports but lost rights after the teams’ regional sports networks decided to air those games exclusively. WGN currently air Chicago Fire soccer games.
The current season has been a rough one for The CW as many of their programs have achieved goose eggs in the adult 18-49 demo but in recent years, expanded to weekends giving the network a seven night a week presence. Among networks, The CW ranked 21st among total viewers for 2021, barely ahead of MeTV and behind Univision, Ion, and Telemundo.
Remember, these are reports – there’s still a chance any potential deal could fall apart. Watch this space as news develops.