The CW’s Affiliates Still “Absorbing” Network’s Makeover, President Dennis Miller Says; No Update On Fate Of NY Flagship WPIX Amid FCC Battle

CW President Dennis Miller acknowledges the revamped network must still “prove ourselves” to local affiliates, which are still “absorbing” the amount of change.

Speaking to Deadline on Thursday morning, just prior to the annual upfronts-week meeting of the affiliates, Miller said the overall base is still “absorbing” the network’s transformation. Upon closing its deal in October 2022 to acquire 75% of the network (in exchange for no upfront considerations, primarily via the assumption of debt), Nexstar Media Group signaled a big-time makeover. Gone are most of the pricey scripted originals largely financed by former 50-50 partners CBS and Warner Bros. (whose parent companies still have 12.5% stakes in The CW). In their place has come live sports programming and more cost-conscious and less-youth-skewing fare.

More from Deadline

Asked about the status of WPIX flagship in New York, Miller referred questions to Nexstar, saying it is their “bailiwick.” The company has been responding to the FCC’s ruling two months ago calling into question the partnership deal between Nexstar and Mission Broadcasting in 2020. In addition to levying a fine, the FCC found Mission’s local marketing agreement with Nexstar, which enabled Nexstar to have a hand in operating the station, was a violation of the 39% ownership cap. The ruling, which Nexstar has said it intends to fight “vigorously,” raises the possibility that Nexstar would have to step away from WPIX in order to come back into compliance.

There has been other shuffling of CW affiliates lately, including in Chicago, which will soon see The CW start airing on WGN. Nexstar, already the largest owner of CW affiliates and local U.S. stations in general, is tweaking its overall network map in order to put the national broadcast signal into more of its local markets.

“We got started a year and a half ago,” Miller said. The message to the affiliates, he half-joked, came across as, “‘We’re going to change out the whole schedule and it’s a different owner and here we go.'”

He continued, “We have to prove ourselves out to these stations, that ‘Hey, I know you had young adult programming, now we’re going to give you the 500 hours of sports, here’s a schedule that’s more broadcast-centric than the previous owners provided, better lead-ins for your news, inventory you can sell on the weekends now that you didn’t have before.'”

The big opportunity, Miller said (echoing the comments by Netflix brass) is boosting The CW’s affiliate revenue by refining its focus in a streaming-obsessed industry.

With the right programming shifts, “they can charge a lot more,” Miller said. Still, doing so “takes time” because of the multi-year nature of carriage deals. Across the industry, Miller said, “We’re seeing so much programming shifting to streaming now that was previously available in broadcast.” The management team has resolved to “really focus on making a broadcast-centric business,” in part to help viewers who are “overwhelmed by the bundling choices.”

While Nexstar still projects the long-in-the-red CW to finally turn a profit by next year, Miller said the process is incremental. “It takes a while for that value proposition catch up with all of the constituents that you need to garner revenue from,” he said. “But we’re fully engaged in that.”

Brad Schwartz, president of entertainment for The CW, sees the Chicago shift as “a perfect example” of the upside ahead. “We were on a small channel and now we’re on WGN,” he said. “That’s going to have a material effect on ratings.”

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.