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New Day Dawns For Broadcast TV As Nexstar Closes Deal For Control Of The CW

Nexstar Media Group has formally closed a deal to acquire 75% of the CW broadcast network. Mark Pedowitz, the longtime CEO of the network and its face to the industry for the past 11 years, is stepping down after a brief transition period.

Dennis Miller, a Nexstar board member and an established figure in media and financial circles, albeit with a different profile than Pedowitz, has been named president of the CW and is leaving the board. The company said it plans to replace him on the board.

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At the time he was appointed to the Nexstar board in 2014, Miller was overseeing business operations for TV Guide Network (now PopTV), which at the time was a CBS-Lionsgate joint venture. From 2005 to 2011, Miller was a general partner at Spark Capital, a venture capital firm that invested in Twitter, Tumblr, CNET and other digital businesses. Before Spark, Miller was a managing director at Constellation Ventures, the venture arm of Bear Stearns, where he led investments in CSTV (sold to CBS), TVOne (sold to Comcast and Radio One) and Capital IQ (sold to McGraw Hill.

Before his run in venture capital, Miller was an EVP at Lionsgate, where he helped create the company’s television group, and he also had senior-level exec stints at Sony Pictures Entertainment and TNT.

Pedowitz said he plans to revive his production company after staying on during the handover to Miller. Pedowitz, had been chairman and CEO of The CW for the past 11 years, helping it punch well above its weight with a series of young-skewing hits like Riverdale, Gossip Girl and All American. Before leading the CW, the exec had a long tenure at ABC, working at its studio as well as the television group. Between Disney and the CW, Pedowitz helmed an independent production banner, Pine Street Entertainment, whose projects included The Crazy Ones, a CBS sitcom starring Robin Williams.

Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global will each retain 12.5% ownership stakes in The CW. Each company is in a different corporate structure than their predecessor partners in the CW, CBS and Time Warner, and both media conglomerates had been eager to shed the financial burdens of owning and controlling a network, even as 50-50 partners.

Although the changing of the guard for the CW is the most stark change hitting any of the broadcast networks, they are all facing existential challenge. Live sports — almost entirely football — and the WWE are pretty much the only reliable tune-in generators and the deterioration of viewership has come fast as millions of people cut the cord each year. The disintegration of pay-TV and the imperative to fund complex forays into streaming have also hastened changes to the business models of network owners. In one sign of the times NBCUniversal several weeks ago acknowledged it had actively considered handing an hour of primetime back to NBC affiliates given the potential for better economics with that scenario.

Nexstar, the No. 1 owner of local TV stations in the U.S. and also parent of cable and digital assets like NewsNation and The Hill, is not putting up any cash to acquire the CW but instead has agreed to absorb the considerable debt accrued by the network. By the admission of most stakeholders, the CW had been run in a fashion unlike many of its rivals. As streaming became a massive profit engine, programming decisions were made with those downstream revenues in mind rather than linear ratings or near-term financial incentives like advertising. Nexstar, which owns the largest collection of CW affiliates of any company, has pledged to steer the CW to profitability within the next few years, though it will certainly look a lot different than the network did in its splashy scripted years. Nexstar plans to inject less expensive unscripted fare, as well as news and sports, though the company has not fully articulated its plans but signaled to Wall Street that it intends to overhaul the network top to bottom and take out significant costs.

Perry Sook, CEO of Nexstar, praised Miller for his work as a board member.

“Dennis Miller brings a unique skill set of proven television, media, and technology industry expertise, as
well as venture capital experience to the role of president at The CW,” Sook said. “His understanding and ability to unlock value from media assets by delivering high-quality, profitable entertainment, will serve the network, its viewers, its partners and CW affiliates around the country extremely well. We are confident his background, experience and relationships will allow Nexstar to deliver on the value of this transaction for our shareholders. I look forward to working with Dennis and Sean Compton, Nexstar’s president of networks, to build on the foundation that Mark Pedowitz and his team have established at both the CW Network and the CW app. We sincerely thank Mark for his many years of service to The CW and wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

In addition to his previous tours through the media business, Miller had recently been chairman of Industrial Media, an independent production group whose companies collectively produce more than 90 TV shows airing across 34 networks. Titles include American Idol on ABC, the Matchmaker series
on Netflix; and Discovery blockbuster 90 Day Fiancé.

“It has been a privilege to serve on Nexstar’s board of directors for the last eight years and work closely with Perry and the other distinguished members of the board during a period of transformational growth and success for the company,” Miller said. “This appointment perfectly aligns my intimate knowledge of Nexstar’s business approach and operating goals to realize the value inherent in The CW. I look forward to working with Perry, Sean and the team to leverage the experience and business relationships built over my career in the media, and technology industries to create new value for viewers, advertisers, affiliates, and Nexstar shareholders.”

Pedowitz called it “an honor” to have overseen the CW. “It was the right moment for me to hand over the leadership baton and I am excited to move on to the next chapter of my professional career where I can pursue a different set of interests,” he said. “I am confident Perry, Sean, Dennis and the Nexstar team’s ability to usher in the next phase of growth and success for the CW Network and look forward to supporting them during the transition period.” Read the exec’s farewell memo to CW staffers HERE.

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