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Nexstar loses $273 million on CW Network in 2023

The broadcast network earned just $250 million in revenue during Nexstar's first full calendar year as majority owner.

The broadcast network earned just $250 million in revenue during Nexstar's first full calendar year as majority owner.

Fans of the San Francisco 49ers football team hold a sign with the logo of the CW Network during an event at Candlestick Park in 2009.
Fans of the San Francisco 49ers football team hold a sign with the logo of the CW Network during an event at Candlestick Park in 2009. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Significant investments in entertainment and live sports content caused Nexstar Media Group to lose hundreds of millions of dollars on the CW Network during its first full year as majority owner, according to financial data released this week.

In its financial earnings report released Wednesday morning, Nexstar revealed the CW lost $52 million on revenue of $55 million during the company’s fourth financial quarter (Q4) of 2023. For the calendar year, losses attributed to the CW clocked in at $273 million on revenue of $250 million, the earnings report revealed.

Nexstar acquired a controlling 75 percent in the CW in August 2022. The network started in 2005 as a joint venture between the predecessors of Paramount Global and Warner Bros Discovery (WBD), with both companies retaining equal minority stakes in the CW.

Under Nexstar’s ownership, the CW quickly revamped its prime-time entertainment line-up to include imported comedy shows from Canada like “Children Ruin Everything” and “Son of a Critch.” The broadcaster also acquired the rights to “Inside the NFL” after the weekly football recap show left Paramount Plus with Showtime last year, and forged new live sports agreements with LIV Golf and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

Those deals did little to help grow the CW’s audience during Nexstar’s first full calendar year as majority owner, with the network seeing a 21 percent drop in viewers compared to 2022, according to Nielsen data reviewed by The Desk in January.

A series of affiliation changes did not help matters, either: Shortly after Nexstar acquired the rights to LIV Golf, Paramount — whose CBS network owns the telecast rights to rival professional golf franchise PGA Tour — announced it would drop the CW affiliation from eight of its owned-and-operated stations.

Nexstar scrambled to find a new home for the CW in the eight affected regions, moving the network’s affiliation to its own stations in Philadelphia, Tampa and San Francisco. In other markets, Nexstar worked with peer broadcasters like Hearst Television and Sinclair Broadcast Group to move the CW affiliation to their local TV stations.

In Detroit, Nexstar initially moved the CW affiliation to WADL (Channel 38), a local television station that was in the process of being sold to Mission Broadcasting, whose broadcast outlets are entirely controlled by Nexstar. The affiliation moved several weeks later to a Scripps-owned station after WADL owner Kevin Adell decided to stop distributing CW shows unless Nexstar agreed to pay him a fee. Mission’s acquisition of WADL — which is being financed by Nexstar — is still pending FCC approval.

Nexstar executives have repeatedly compared its ownership of the CW to the early years of the Fox Broadcasting Network, which was slow to build up its roster of hit entertainment program and experienced a number of affiliation swaps in its first decade on the air.

“If you think about it, over time, with the same number of hours of weekday programming and its growing live sports portfolio, the CW is increasingly looking like Fox,” Nexstar CEO Perry Sook said on a conference call with investors last fall.

Like Fox, Nexstar appears to be spending heavily on entertainment and live sports with the hope that it one day pays off for them — though that day still has yet to come.

Those significant investments in the CW network’s programming comes at a time when other parts of Nexstar’s businesses are experiencing pain points of their own.

On Wednesday, the broadcaster revealed its advertising business generated $1.726 billion in 2023, or around 22.4 percent lower compared to the previous year. The loss was mainly attributed to lower political advertising spend across Nexstar’s portfolio of over 200 local television stations and the cable news channel NewsNation. Political advertising dropped 87 percent in 2023 compared to one year earlier.

The sluggish advertising business was only partially offset by higher carriage fees charged to cable, satellite and some streaming television companies, with Nexstar reporting $2.727 billion from distribution fees, an increase of 6.1 percent.


Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article erroneously reported losses at the CW Network as $94 million on $66 million in revenue during Q4 2023. The story was updated with the correct data shortly after it was published.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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