Kellner Claims Profits Are Just Around Corner for WB By CARLOS MARTINEZ Staff Reporter Once more, the word from Jamie Kellner on WB is “Wait until next year.” After six straight years of losses, Burbank-based WB Television Network says it’s ready to post an annual profit for the first time in 2003. “We’ve had some profitable quarters, but we can already see a profitable year next year,” said Jamie Kellner, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting System Inc., which encompasses the WB. After reporting $475 million in revenue last year, slightly higher than the $453 million it reported in 2000, the WB is closing in on possible profitability by next year, Kellner said. Last year, Kellner’s story was almost identical when he told reporters he expected a profit this year. However, at a gathering of the Television Critics Association at Pasadena’s Ritz Carlton Hotel on July 13, he blamed a weak economy and the Sept. 11 attacks for the company’s inability to follow through with predictions. AOL Time Warner Inc. is the majority owner of WB, with the Tribune Co. owning 25 percent and WB executives about 11 percent. AOL Time Warner representatives said corporate policy does not allow them to break out net income figures for the network. During last month’s so-called “upfront sales” period, when the broadcast networks sign contracts with advertisers for the coming fall season, WB announced it had secured pledges of about $600 million in sales, its biggest upfront take ever. If the sales contracts materialize as expected, the network would have the first annual profit in its seven-year history. Traditionally, the broadcast networks try to sell the bulk of their commercial time before the season begins with the remainder sold on a week-per-week basis in the so-called “scatter market.” Although WB’s upfront sales were higher than ever, it still was far behind NBC’s $2.7 billion. NBC was last season’s highest rated network, followed by CBS, ABC, Fox, WB and UPN. Second-rated CBS was also second in this year’s upfront market with $1.9 billion, followed by ABC with $1.7 billion; Fox, $1.3 billion; WB, $600 million; and UPN with about $250 million. Timothy Wallace, a media analyst with Banc of America Securities, said the strength of the upfront market is a good sign for WB and its chances for profitability next year. He said all four major networks showed some improvement in sales over last year at this time. Jack Myers, chief economist of the Jack Myers Report, a media industry newsletter, said the fact WB is sustaining its market share shows it can survive in a tough economy. Going into the fall season with some genuine breakout hits like “Seventh Heaven,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “Charmed,” the network is looking to score big ratings with a mix of shows that tap into the network’s target young audience of 18- to 34-year-olds. WB hopes to score big with “Birds of Prey,” its new fantasy show based on the Batgirl character from the Batman comic books. With a new version of the 1966-71 ABC show “Family Affair” and the retelling of the Batman story in “Birds of Prey,” the network is able to add shows that already have name recognition.
Kellner Claims Profits Are Just Around Corner for WB