For much of his professional life, Ed Wilson was an executive who sold programs to station groups like Tribune Co. Starting this week, as the new president of the Tribune broadcast group, he's on the other side of the table. Wilson now runs the chain of 23 TV stations, as well as its cable Superstation WGN, Tribune Entertainment and WGN Radio.
Wilson, who has been president of the Fox Television Network since 2004, has his work cut out, as Tribune restructures its operations.
“Sam Zell and Randy Michaels plan to take a very established company and transform it into a company that is going to compete aggressively for the next 50 years,” says Wilson, who will move to Chicago with his wife. (Wilson's two children are in college.) Zell closed his acquisition of Tribune Co. in December, and he hired Randy Michaels as Tribune's executive VP and CEO of interactive and broadcasting. Earlier Michaels helped Zell build and sell the Jacor chain of radio stations to Clear Channel.
What Wilson won't be focusing on is producing and distributing syndicated programming—a business that Tribune has finally exited and in which Wilson has plenty of experience. After beginning his career in advertising sales in 1980, he started his own syndication company, MaXaM Entertainment, in 1994, in partnership with A.H. Belo Corp., which the partners then sold to CBS Enterprises and Eyemark Entertainment in 1996, with Wilson serving as its president.
While at CBS, Wilson led the charge to sell Everybody Loves Raymond to TV stations, a highly successful sales effort that is still paying off today.
In 2000, Wilson launched NBC Enterprises—now NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. In that capacity, he oversaw the company's domestic and foreign syndication efforts as well as merchandising, licensing, music and publishing.
“For Tribune to be back in syndication, we would have to create the right opportunity. I don't know what that is right now,” Wilson says. “But when the right executive is running the right company, I think syndication is a great business.”
At the moment, Tribune's stations—in particular its 14 CW affiliates—rely heavily on NBC Universal's Maury, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos as well as access and late fringe sitcoms, with the popular Two and a Half Men and Family Guy just entering the mix.
While Wilson doesn't have experience running TV stations, while at Fox he was charged with renewing the network's sometimes complicated affiliation deals. Wilson also was breaking new ground in brokering digital agreements.
With Tribune's recent turbulence now behind it, what's left is a corporate mandate to improve and streamline operations. That includes creating a broadcast management group to be overseen by Michaels that will run TV stations owned by Tribune and Local TV LLC, owned by private equity firm Oak Hill Capital. Local TV LLC is comprised of nine formerly New York Times Co.-owned stations and is in the process of buying eight formerly Fox-owned stations.
That means Wilson still will be working closely with Fox in his new role. Tribune owns six Fox affiliates and two MyNetwork affiliates. Assuming Wilson will work with the management company, he also will be involved with Local TV LLC's eight Fox affiliates and one MyNetwork affiliate.
Says Tony Vinciquerra, president and CEO of the Fox Networks Group and Wilson's former boss, “Ed's accomplished everything we asked him to do and we wish him well at Tribune. We are looking forward to working with Ed. Once all these deals get done, Tribune and Local TV LLC will be our largest affiliate group.”