The Media Notepad: Marquee’s future getting on Dish looks very bleak

Also: Big 3 add overnight news repeats; Fox renews three daytime shows; Disney + signs ten million users; two prime-shows pink-slipped

We have an update on the latest with the Cubs’ new Marquee Network and Dish…and I’m guessing those negotiations aren’t going well.

In an interview with the Tribune’s Eric Zorn (a rather pointed opinion piece urging Dish not to carry the channel because of the Ricketts family’s right-wing stances), a Dish representative didn’t seem too keen on carrying the new regional sports network: “Our back-of-the-envelope math tells us that the Marquee Network would cost subscribers between $50 and $70 a month if it simply were sold on its own,” said Dish group president Brian Neylon. “Our view is that those people, the vast majority of our customers, shouldn’t have to subsidize Cubs fans. That’s why we say the business model of regional sports networks is broken.”

Already Dish is in disputes with RSNs NBC Sports Chicago, Colorado’s Altitude, and the 21 Fox regional sports networks, whom Sinclair Broadcasting purchased from Disney earlier this year. Sinclair of course, is a partner with the Cubs in Marquee’s operations.

What this tells us is Dish isn’t exactly willing to negotiate with Marquee – namely because any deal with the Cubs’ new network for them must also include one for the Fox RSNs. Earlier, Dish struck deals with Charter, Mediacom, and AT&T to carry the new Cubs network – in some cases, tied in with Sinclair’s 191 local TV stations, include a few downstate.

So as I’ve said before in this space, if you are hoping for Dish to carry Marquee, you might just want to switch to DirecTV or Mediacom (if your area is served by them) or try another option. But with less than three months to go until launch and notable providers such as Comcast, RCN, and WOW still holding out – Marquee might want to get a move on.

In an almost complete sweep of its daytime lineup, the Fox Television Stations has renewed its three syndicated shows for next fall: veterans Divorce Court, Dish Nation, and newbie 25 Words or Less.

“Every day, America welcomes us into their homes to laugh, cry and play. We are part of their everyday ritual and we look forward to being there for a long time to come,” said FTS executive VP of programming and development Stephen Brown in a statement.

In Chicago, all three shows air on either Fox-owned WFLD (Fox 32) or sister station WPWR (My50) in various daytime periods. This brings the number of programs the Fox-owned stations have renewed for next fall to eight, including Wendy Williams and a package deal of shows from Warner Bros., including Extra and TMZ.

Fox Television Stations syndicates all three shows under the name Fox First-Run as the station group was one of the properties retained by Fox Corporation as much of the company was sold to The Walt Disney Company including Twentieth Television, home of The Simpsons, Modern Family, Last Man Standing, and Bob’s Burgers. Meanwhile, Disney operates Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution separately, with black-ish, Tamron Hall, and Live With Kelly and Ryan in its stables.

But this may not be for long – 13 years ago, CBS Corporation decided to merge the separate King World Productions and CBS Paramount Television syndication operations to form CBS Television Distribution in order to reduce expenses. The company sells the national ad barter time for all three Fox First-Run shows, not to mention Debmar-Mercury’s programming.

If you are up late at night, you might have noticed seeing David Muir, Lester Holt, and Norah O’Donnell. That’s because the three major networks have decided to let a few affiliates and owned stations to run repeats of their national network newscasts in overnight hours.

The trend started back last summer when the NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt starting airing after Later on the network’s owned-stations, including NBC 5 (WMAQ-TV) here. In October, the ABC-owned stations (including ABC 7, WLS-TV) did likewise, airing overnight repeats of ABC World News Tonight With David Muir. And just two weeks ago, several CBS-owned stations (including CBS 2, WBBM-TV) followed suit with The CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell. All three shows continue to air at 5:30 p.m. local time, as they done for decades.

Several affiliates of the Big 3 networks have also decided to take repeats of the network newscasts overnight, including WFAA (ABC) in Dallas, WTAE (ABC) in Pittsburgh, WKYC (NBC) in Cleveland,and WGRZ (NBC) in Buffalo.

So why are the networks doing this in the 24-hour cable news era?

According to Variety, a reason may be because they want to cume the ratings together to sell to advertisers. But adding broadcasts of dated news shows overnight may not be the best way to do so. Keep in mind all three newscasts are available online for later viewing and also available to stream and listen to via podcast.

Even more baffling, in CBS and ABC’s cases, the newscasts lead into the networks’ live overnight news shows.

So while it is understood the networks’ are trying to get the most out of their early evening newscasts, airing half-day old network newscasts is about as appealing as eating half-day old muffins.

Well, that was quick: Disney’s new streaming service was a popular item when it launched last Tuesday, achieving ten million sign-ups already – all in just 24 hours.

By comparison, sister service Hulu didn’t achieve its ten millionth customer until 2016 while Netflix didn’t pass the benchmark until 2009. Launched in  2014, CBS All Access has yet to even reach it.

But these numbers could be goosed: Verizon has decided to give their customers free Disney Plus for a year, as their commercials attests (AT&T customers could expect a similar deal when HBO Max launches) and a large number of the sign ups are for the seven-day free trial. It remains to be seen if these signups translate into subscriptions.

The new streaming service did launch as advertised on November 12, but not without hiccups – many users weren’t able to log in because because of a flood of people using it. And Simpsons fans were complaining about older episodes of the series not being in their correct aspect ratio (16:9 widescreen as opposed to 4:3, the format the series was originally produced in), chopping off the top and bottom of the screen.

The sub numbers are from the launch in the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands; Disney Plus is scheduled to launch in Australia and New Zealand this coming week and expand to Western Europe next year. Overall, a very good start for Disney Plus as a nice family-friendly programming option (Simpsons and Marvel stuff aside).

Pink slips were recently handed out to two prime-time shows: ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat and Fox’s reboot of BH90210.

Boat became the longest-running prime-time sitcom featuring Asian-Americans, amassing 108 episodes in its six-season run. But controversy erupted when the show received a last-minute renewal last spring, prompting one of the series’ stars to lash out. Constance Wu wasn’t happy with the news and complained openly on social media with profane tweets (later deleted) as she was forced to decline a project that she wanted to participate in.

Now buried on Friday night amid declining viewership, the show’s final episode is scheduled for February 21. While it is unusual for a veteran show to get canceled in mid-season, it has happened before – after a terrible ratings start, NBC canceled long-running western Bonanza in November 1972 and left the airwaves in January 1973. Approximately a year later, ABC pulled the plug on Room 222 and Love American Style, evicting them from the network’s Friday lineup in January 1974.  Rhoda – which achieved a viewership record for a wedding episode early in its run, was canceled by CBS in December 1978 midway through its fifth season as the series sat at the bottom of the ratings.

Despite 108 episodes in the can, there is no word on any future syndication prospects as the series has yet to make a sale. Most local stations are exiting the off-network sitcom business while cable networks are loathe to spend any money on reruns as linear TV ratings continue to dwindle.

As for BH90210, the loose take on the original 1990-2000 drama about the cast of the series trying to reboot the show didn’t click with audiences this summer (or maybe it confused them), averaging less than four million viewers in live-viewing figures. A similar “inside take” TV series (Cult) was canceled by The CW in 2013 after just two months.

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Entercom’s Jimmy deCastro calls it a career

Exiting Entercom after just two years on job

The Deacon has left the building.

As first reported by Robert Feder Friday, Entercom Chicago senior vice president and market manager Jimmy deCastro is retiring after a little over two years being appointed to the position. 

A replacement will be named next week, with deCastro exiting December 13.

The longtime Chicago radio executive was installed as market manager for the former CBS Radio stations right after Entercom closed on its purchase of the radio group. Among the first moves he made was to flip 104.3 FM from WJMK’s classic hits format to a Classic Hip-Hop 104.3 Jams and adapting the legendary call letters identified with African-American Chicago radio, WBMX.

In addition to running WBMX, all-news WBBM-AM (and WCFS-FM), Top 40 outlet WBBM-FM (B96), country WUSN-FM (US 99), adult album alternative WXRT-FM and all-sports WSCR-AM (The Score,) DeCastro was also responsible for Entercom’s stations in Milwaukee and Madison, Wis.

Aside from WBMX, deCastro helped keep WBBM-AM at or near the top of the ratings with its rigid all-news format, not to mention popular Bears football and Cubs baseball on The Score. But his tenure was also marked by numerous staff changes, including the departure of Stylz & Roman from US 99 amid declining ratings; the hiring (and firing) of Kevin “DreX” Buchar as morning personality at B96 after less than a year; and several changes at The Score, adding David Haugh plus the return of Dan McNeil and the removal of Jason Goff and Brian Hanley. Outside of the AM stations and perhaps WBMX, ratings for the rest of the Entercom cluster have sagged.

His tenure was marked by cost cutting as well, including layoffs and reducing the number of floors Entercom had at Prudential Plaza from three floors to two.

DeCastro came into prominence in the early 1980s being hired at Heifel Broadcasting’s WLUP-FM (The Loop) as GM, at a time when Steve Dahl and Garry Meier were fired by the station for “assaulting community standards” (both returned to The Loop in 1986.) He became one of the investors in Evergreen Media, who purchased The Loop and WLUP-AM (now ESPN 1000) and became President of AMFM, the company formed by the merger of Evergreen Media and Chancellor, and was swallowed up by Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) in 2000.

After serving as president of AOL Interactive and forming The Content Factory, DeCastro resurfaced as President and GM of WGN-AM and short-lived sports station WGWG-LP (The Game.)

Even though deCastro is retiring from radio, he isn’t entirely going away: he’s still President and CEO of his sports marketing company After The Whistle and plans to form a new sports gambling venture.

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Chicago stations beef up gun violence coverage

WTTW’s interactive coverage of gun violence features North Lawndale resident Jsaron Jones, who was a victim.

WGN-TV, WTTW go deeper covering epidemic

With Chicago gun violence continuing to attract global headlines, two stations are ramping up their efforts in order to help combat the problem.

WTTW and Nexstar’s WGN-TV are increasing their coverage on the epidemic with special reports, discussions, and creating more of a online presence.

In recent weeks, WGN has aired a number of special reports of the subject including bail reform; the “code of silence” on the streets, as witnesses refuse to cooperate with law enforcement on shootings and murders; and the odds of getting away with murder (a subject also brought up time and time again on WFLD’s Friday night public-affairs show Flannery Fired Up.) The station plans to air more special reports on gun violence in the weeks ahead.

WGN has also beefed up their web presence on the subject, with WGN’s reports available online on a special website “Unsolved”, which you can access here.

This comes as WTTW this week unveiled a more ambitious project. Titled “FirstHand: Gun Violence“, the public television station goes behind the scenes to see how the gun violence epidemic impacts neighborhoods, families, and the city and suburbs in general in a year-long initiative. The project can be accessed here.

Included in Firsthand:  stories produced in partnership with independent nonprofit publication The Trace, who covers the gun violence epidemic in America; several experts proposing solutions; and a 15-part documentary following five people living with the aftermath of gun violence. The special section also includes the latest news on how politicians and community leaders are trying to solve the epidemic.

The documentary was released Tuesday morning. Several clips were shown Tuesday on WTTW’s flagship news show Chicago Tonight.

Also planned is a discussion guide and a series of community meetings featuring residents, advocates, policymakers, and experts throughout Chicago. The first of those discussions took place Tuesday at Kennedy-King College in Englewood with those featured in Firsthand, urging city leaders to make gun violence and mental health a priority.

The initiative is led by WTTW boss Sandra Cordova Micek, who has made news and public affairs at the station a priority since she arrived at the station seventeen months ago. “WTTW is uniquely positioned to cover the important stories and critical issues facing our city,” Micek told Robert Feder on October 30. “We hope that through our work and this project, we fulfill our purpose to enrich lives, engage communities, and inspire exploration.”

While homicides and shootings are down in Chicago, it doesn’t mean the picture is improving. In a speech to police chiefs at McCormick Place last month, President Donald Trump slammed the city again for its gun violence epidemic, once again trying to score points with his base as he and conservatives often criticize the city and its leaders.

And just this week, a Chicago rapper was gunned down in Country Club Hills, a suburb six and-a-half miles from Chicago’s southern border as the story made global headlines – something Chicago is now used to. Despite the decline, Chicago still receives the lion’s share of gun violence coverage from the national media while ignoring places where the epidemic is just as rampant, such as St. Louis and St. Paul, Minn., where the city is headed for a homicide record.

Also, the city’s media outlets continue to stumble covering urban issues as I pointed out two months ago as newsrooms reporting on the issues facing African-American and Hispanic areas of Chicagoland continue to lack racial diversity.

But the initiative taken by two Chicago television stations seems to be a start as local stations have an obligation to serve the public – it differentiates them from the rest of the media landscape as more and more viewers are abandoning linear TV for streaming services and other options. While these stories paint a grim picture of the city – and is even taking a toll on those who cover the carnage, it’s a harsh reality many in the Chicago area have to deal with on a daily basis.


Broadcasters, cable news networks prepare for impeachment hearings

Viewers, syndicators prepare for regular daytime TV schedules to be disrupted

(Editor’s Note: This post will be continuously updated with any information on who is carrying the impeachment hearings. – T.H.) 

If you are a fan of daytime TV, get ready for a serious reality check.

Beginning Wednesday, the major broadcast networks and cable news channels will begin carrying impeachment hearings involving President Trump as they head into the public phase.

The hearings begin at 9 a.m. Central and at 10 a.m. on Friday. Hearings are also scheduled from Tuesday thru Thursday next week, although times were not set.

ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS will all carry the hearings as will CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and C-Span. The hearings will also be streamed live on each network’s platform. For example, CBS News’ streaming news service CBSN plans to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage.

This means regularly scheduled programming will be pre-empted, including network programs such as The View and Price Is Right and numerous syndicated talk shows Live With Kelly and Ryan, Rachael Ray, Kelly Clarkson, Tamron Hall, and more.

The potential pre-emptions come at a time when the television business is in the middle of the November sweeps. While the major networks have downplayed them in recent years – especially in prime-time, local stations and syndicators still depend on these periods to charge advertising rates as any disruptions could affect their national ratings.

Moreover, at least in Chicago and a few other markets where it airs in the afternoon (early fringe), the impeachment hearings could pre-empt Jeopardy!, which is in the middle of their Tournament Of Champions featuring 32-game winner James Holzhauer and the contestant who knocked him off his winning perch, Emma Boettcher. Both are meeting Thursday and Friday in the finals – with the latter possibly pre-empted locally for impeachment coverage if it runs past 3 p.m. (Jeopardy airs at 3:30 p.m. here on ABC 7.)

The last disruption of this type took place in 1998 when President Bill Clinton faced an impeachment trial, covered by the broadcast networks and cable channels. But the biggest disruption took place in 1994 and 1995 when the O.J. Simpson murder trial took place. Even though the major broadcast networks did not have gavel-to-gavel coverage, viewership was impacted for over a year as viewers flocked to Court TV (then a cable network) to watch the proceedings.

As for PBS, the network plans to carry the impeachment hearings, but came under fire from some quarters for deciding not to air same-day repeats in prime-time – something the service did during Nixon’s impeachment hearings in 1973, enabling viewers who weren’t home during the day a chance to watch. Last Friday, former PBS journalist Bill Myers and Common Dreams’ Michael Winship took out an ad in the New York Times, calling for PBS to air the hearings like they did back then. PBS plans to provide extensive coverage during the PBS NewsHour, Amanpour & Company, and on-demand on all PBS digital platforms and airing a replay of the hearings on its World digital subchannel .(Moyers’ pleas do seem to be out of touch.)

On Tuesday, Washington D.C. PBS member station WETA announced they would carry same-day repeats of the hearings at night. 

As of this writing, the programming plans for WTTW Wednesday and Friday aren’t known, but during the Justice Kavanaugh hearings, the station opted to air coverage on its Prime digital subchannel (11.2) in order not to interrupt its kids programming on its main (11.1) channel. Both Prime and World (11.3) are carried by some cable systems, but not all, including satellite carriers DirecTV and Dish.

Here are the plans for other local stations:

– Nexstar’s WGN-TV said on its newscast Tuesday it plans to air gavel-to-gavel coverage Wednesday and Friday.

– Fox-owned WFLD-TV’s plans were revealed via TVNewscheck (here’s a cleaned-up, translated version of the memo):

  • WFLD plans on taking the feed from the “Level 2” special report of the impeachment hearings over the air and digitally Wednesday.
  • WFLD will monitor events during the day, and will break [into] programming [whenever possible.]
  • WFLD will monitor the events of Wednesday and then decide on the plan for Friday’s coverage. There is a good chance [the hearings could air] on Fox 32 again, as well.

WFLD has no plans to air any impeachment coverage on sister station WPWR (My50) – at least for now.

With sister network Fox News covering the hearings, the Fox broadcast network is leaving each individual station to decide how much of the impeachment hearings they want to carry.

With so many different ways to watch television in 2019, Trump’s impeachment hearings are going to take on a decidedly different vibe. Millions of viewers tuned in to Nixon’s impeachment hearings coined “the summer’s hottest soap opera”, sending daytime’s homes-using-television levels to record numbers. But today, viewers are going to have different platforms to watch, and coverage is likely more tailored to how you feel about President Trump whether you like him (Fox News) or dislike him (MSNBC).

And the hearings may not have the same influence as the Nixon hearings did as many voters have most likely made up their minds about trump and may not tune in, while other daytime viewers who are not interested are likely to head to their local CW or My Network TV affiliate, entertainment cable networks, or streaming.

So how many days the impeachment hearings take? No one knows for sure. But for the television industry’s sake – and for networks and syndicators, it better not be too many.

(Updated at 9:44 p.m.) 

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Rep. Bobby Rush slams Comcast over Byron Allen lawsuit

1st District Congressman not happy with nation’s largest cable company

In a huge broadside against one of the country’s biggest cable operators, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) slammed Comcast for their role in a lawsuit involving one of the nation’s most successful African-American media entrepreneurs and may lead the company to be broken up.

In a letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, Rush criticized the company for challenging a court decision to reinstate a suit against Comcast for discrimination, particularly Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios as the case against the cable company is being heard at the U.S. Supreme Court this Tuesday.

Comcast is asking the court to throw out the case and possibly amend the “section 1891” provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, passed after the Civil War to protect the rights of newly freed slaves. It states “All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.”

Using Allen’s lawsuit against Comcast, the Justice Department wants to tighten the rules regarding section 1981, though Comcast stated they were not seeking to roll back civil rights laws.

And this is what has Rush riled up.

“It is evident to me,” Rush wrote in his letter to Mr. Roberts, “that with this demonstration of corporate greed, Comcast has forfeited and repudiated its claim to be an inclusive company that is a friend of the black community.” Rush further slammed Comcast calling them “cold, callous, arrogant, and insensitive to African-Americans” and since the Trump administration is backing Comcast in the suit, he points out it’s an assault on minorities’ rights. He goes on to say “Simply put, it is my belief that the Comcast Corporation needs to be broken up.”

Trump’s support is odd (to some), considering his continued criticism of NBC News, among others calling them “fake news”. Comcast is the parent of NBCUniversal.

Byron Allen, head of Entertainment Studios. (Variety)

Rush represents much of Chicago’s South Side (including the area of where this writer lives) and several south suburbs including Evergreen Park, Blue Island, Frankfort, and Oak Forest where Comcast is the dominant provider – though in Chicago proper, customers can also choose between WOW and RCN in some areas. There are an estimated 1.5 million Comcast customers in the Chicago area, branded as Xfinity.

This is not the first time the veteran congressman has called out a media company: back in 2011, he and other African-American leaders ripped into CBS-owned WBBM-TV after the local station maliciously edited video on the station’s morning newscast featuring a 4-year old wanting to join a gang when he really wanted to go fight criminals. The network and its O&O station were once targets of a boycott by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH in 1985 after WBBM demoted African-American anchor Harry Porterfield. Ratings for the station plunged and never recovered, even to this day.

Comcast has been under fire from Rush and other African-American lawmakers, leaders, and activists for their role in the lawsuit keeping Allen’s cable networks off Comcast. The channels (available on DirecTV) include,, and After starting his company with little money in the mid-1990s, A former stand-up comedian who got his big break on The Tonight Show leading to a hosting job on NBC’s Real People, Allen’s company has grown into a powerhouse and is one of the biggest independent studios in the country. First formed as a syndicator, Entertainment Studios distributes numerous shows, with Funny You Should Ask and Comics Unleashed the highest-profiled.

Comcast has defended their business practices and their commitment to serving diverse audiences, noting Allen decided not to join Comcast’s MOU process, bringing four African-American owned cable networks to their lineups. However, most of those channels appear on Comcast’s upper-tiers, generally are the most expensive. And the company settled a lawsuit with African-American workers in 2016 over hostile working conditions in their facility in the Pullman neighborhood, totaling $7.2 million.

The case could have implications beyond the television business. Should the Supreme Court side with Comcast, it could have the potential to affect the way African-Americans and other minorities sue companies for discrimination. The outcome also could launch a revolt against Comcast given much of Chicago’s South Side (especially in Rush’s district) and south suburbs are African-American – which could hurt the company as more and more residents are “cutting the cord” for streaming services. But this could be debatable, given Comcast also sells broadband service.

While a breakup of Comcast is possible – Congress doesn’t have the power to do so though they can hold hearings among other actions (which led up to the breakup of the original AT&T) and reveal how their business practices work. While Trump’s Justice Department can help Comcast fend off this lawsuit, it’s the court of public opinion – especially among African-Americans that could affect them the most and wind up with the absolute worst PR disaster imaginable.

Just ask CBS and WBBM-TV.

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Marquee inks pact with Mediacom; but still no Chicago-area cable deal

Sinclair strikes deal to bring Cubs channel in 2020

We are now at a point where Cubs games are being shown in Des Moines but not in the Chicago area itself on cable.

Thankfully, Marquee isn’t launching until February.

As first reported by the Chicago Tribune Wednesday, the Chicago Cubs and Sinclair announced a carriage deal with cable provider Mediacom.

The Cubs and Sinclair Broadcasting are joint partners in operating the team’s regional sports network.

Mediacom is the nation’s fifth-largest cable operator in the United States and offers service in 22 states including Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and others. Mediacom serves some portions of the Chicago market; suburbs include Minooka, Sugar Grove, and Yorkville; other far-flung areas outside of Chicago include Ottawa and Streator.

Mediacom is the dominant cable provider in Iowa, particularly in Des Moines and the Quad Cities area of Davenport, Rock Island, and Moline. Even though Cubs games on the channel are subject to blackout, viewers in Iowa will get to see Cubs games on Marquee when the channel launches on February 22.

Other deals reached so far include Charter Communications (Spectrum) and AT&T, whose DirecTV, U-Verse, and AT&T Now customers receiving the channel. But notably absent are three major Chicago-area providers: RCN, WOW, and Comcast. In an appearance on WSCR-AM Wednesday, Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney said Marquee achieved 40 percent of the channel’s carriage goals, and is already negotiating with Comcast, not to mention other streaming services such as Fubo and Hulu (he did mention PlayStation Vue, but that service is shutting down in January.) Kenney also said an app is in development.

Comcast is Chicago’s largest cable provider by far covering all points of the city proper and most suburbs while RCN serves the lakefront areas stretching from Rogers Park to Hyde Park. WOW serves mostly Chicago’s South Side.

Also yet to strike a deal is satellite provider Dish, who is currently in an impasse with other regional sports networks including NBC Sports Chicago, Sinclair’s Fox Sports Net, and Colorado’s Altitude, who recently struck a deal with DirecTV to return to the airwaves. Any deal with Marquee would be tied to Sinclair’s other RSNs. But with Dish reporting a surge in customers in the third quarter, it gives them some more leverage against both Sinclair, Altitude, and NBC Sports Chicago, at least for the moment.

Earlier, Mediacom struck a new carriage deal with NBC Sports Chicago.

In other Marquee news, the channel this week named MLB Network’s Michael Santini as their senior vice president of programming and production. 

Marquee plans to carry up to 150 regular-season games for 2020 and beyond, and is the exclusive home to Chicago Cubs baseball. Marquee has also added its first non-baseball sport – if you can call it that. In a deal including all of Sinclair’s RSNs, the channels plan to begin carrying the company’s Ring Of Honor Wrestling, starting Friday (beginning in February for Marquee.)

Marquee Network sizzle reel:

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Fox swaps Charlotte stations for Nexstar’s Seattle outlets; acquires Milwaukee’s WITI

Sale reunites WITI with Fox ownership

In a deal that finally gives Fox ownership of local stations in the Emerald City, Nexstar agreed to sell their Seattle duopoly in exchange for the network’s duopoly in Charlotte.

The stations in the deal include Seattle Fox affiliate KCPQ-TV and My Network TV affiliate KJZO-TV; Fox-owned WJZY and My Network TV station WMYT; and Nexstar’s Fox affiliate in Milwaukee, WITI with the price tag around $350 million. Nexstar acquired Tribune Media in a $4.1 billion deal earlier this year.

The WITI sale returns the station to Fox ownership; the previous incarnation of Fox (News Corp.) owned WITI from 1997 to 2008. WITI was one of eight CBS affiliates who defected to Fox in 1994 in the New World deal as Fox would buy the company outright in 1997.

Fox stunned observers by acquiring then-CW affiliate WJZY and WMYT from Capitol Broadcasting in 2013, stripping the Fox affiliation away from WCCB-TV.

“This acquisition expands the reach of one of Fox’s core assets, our television stations portfolio, and further strengthens what is already a highly profitable and cash generative business. Fox Executive Chairman and CEO Lachlan Murdoch said. “The Seattle and Milwaukee markets both overlap with key sports markets, creating significant opportunities for growth and collaboration.”

Jack Abernathy, CEO of Fox Television Stations, added: “Acquiring stations in these high-performing NFC markets enhances our already strong nationwide footprint and further demonstrates Fox Television Stations’ commitment to serving our viewers, advertisers and local communities.”

Oddly, the stations Fox is selling to Nexstar is in an NFC market, home to the Carolina Panthers.

Fox is entering a market it long has covered since it is home to the NFC’s Seattle Seahawks while Milwaukee is home to the nearby Green Bay Packers as the network has rights to the NFC package and Thursday Night Football. In addition, Fox has rights to a few regular-season Major League Baseball games plus the World Series and home to the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers.

Fox had a tense relationship with then-owner Tribune Media over KCPQ, even going as far as serving a termination notice of their affiliation agreement in 2014. Fox proposed to buy a local station licensed to Bellingham, Wash. near the Canadian border but dropped those plans after deciding to stay with KCPQ, but with Fox increasing the amount of reverse compensation the station had to pay. When Sinclair tried to buy Tribune in 2017, it offered to sell several stations to Fox, including KCPQ and KJZO but fell through after the FCC put the brakes on Sinclair-Tribune.

As for Nexstar, the deal gives them two more stations in the Carolinas with the acquisition fitting nicely their portfolio as they also own outlets in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Subject to FCC approval, the deal is expected to close early next year. Once it does, Fox would own stations in fourteen of the top fifteen markets, with the exception of Boston’s WFXT, who Fox traded to Cox Communications in 2014 in order to acquire KTVU in San Francisco.

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Fox-owned stations renew Warner Bros.’ syndicated shows in multi-year deal

Group renews quartet of shows and forces format change

In a massive deal, the Fox-owned station group renewed four Warner Bros.’ first-run shows currently on its stations.

But the deal come with some changes that you, the viewer will notice.

Four shows from the AT&T-owned syndicator: TMZ, TMZ Live, The Real and Extra were each given multi-year renewal deals. But now included in those contracts are the elimination of commercial spots after the end of each show, which is basically local ad time – which means the run for each show would clock in at 29:57 (min:sec) and 59:57 past the hour, instead of 28:28 and 58:28 past the hour, as any TV station traffic department can tell you.

All four shows air on Fox-owned WFLD-TV.

“I started in broadcasting, but I’ve spent a lot of time in cable. There, we are very focused on clean breaks from one show to another. In cable news, they do the hand-offs and you don’t even know one show is ending and another is beginning,” said Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernathy.

Effective this December, those local breaks will move to the middle of the show, adding to the commercial time (no national advertising barter time is affected.) “Seamless transitions between programs are long overdue in local television,” Abernathy said. He feels the spots separating the end of the program and the start of another is an open invitation to turn the dial (or in more modern terms, punch up another station on the remote.) It is a plan by Abernathy to implement those type of transitions on the Fox-owned stations. Already, the end of WFLD’s newscast at 10 p.m. goes straight into Modern Family without commercial interruption.

A similar format was in place several years ago for stations airing Paramount’s The Insider and Entertainment Tonight back-to-back in prime access (7-8 p.m.), mainly on the CBS O&Os. The practice was later abandoned.

The move continues a trend the broadcast networks (notably NBC) adapted in the mid-1990s, where they eliminated the local ad breaks in between shows and started squeezing credits and shortening or eliminating program intros and theme songs in order to keep viewers engaged. But this practice has been around in local TV in one form or another since the 1970s when ironically, WFLD pioneered the practice and used it for the longest time but was abandoned in recent years for unknown reasons (WGN-TV, a pre-Fox WPWR, WGBO in its English-language days, and WCIU would adapt the same practice.)

For example, a show would end with closing credits (with or without the closing syndication logo) but instead of a local commercial break, a station promo or ID would come next, and then the start of the next show. Courtesy of Fuzzy Memories, here’s an example: from 1979, an ending of The Partridge Family, the closing credits (the Screen Gems “S from Hell” logo was skipped), a Field Communications bumper (WFLD’s then-owner), a promo for Benny Hill with WFLD station identification, and the start of Green Acres.

Here’s another example of “seamless” transition from CBS-owned WBBM-TV in 1972, as the station ends its 10 p.m. newscast and dives right into The CBS Late Movie, with John Coughlin and Bob Wallace even looking at and pointing to the screen when it starts:


The practice is used in order to sell more commercial time within the shows themselves, and to drive up ad rates – and of course, to prevent viewers from changing the channels. Today, the practice is more rushed as credits are squeezed, or shown very fast and in some cases, eliminated altogether – including the syndicatior’s closing logo.

Other programs have also employed tactics in order to get viewers to programs quicker. NBC recently reduced the opening credits to The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon while both CBS and WTTW have instituted cold opens (eliminating the intro segments) for Survivor and Chicago Tonight, respectively.

Since all four shows are syndicated, each show airs at different times in different markets so it remains to be seen how this would work – especially if they plan the have shows “toss it back to one another”. Locally, The Real airs at 11 a.m., Extra at 2:30 p.m., TMZ Live at 3:30 p.m. and TMZ at 4:30 p.m. Fox’s Dish Nation airs at 3 p.m. but soon plans to employ the same format with 25 Words Or Less and Divorce Court.

It remains to be seen how this works outside of the Fox O&Os.

As for the shows themselves, Extra, TMZ and its Live counterpart have been renewed through 2023; with The Real through 2022. Extra has been revamped this year with Billy Bush taking over as host with the series shifted to Fox-owned stations in several large markets this fall (WFLD has aired Extra since 2016.) Extra’s ratings in their key 25-54 female demo has improved as has another entertainment newsmagaine (Access Hollywood, who hired former Extra host Mario Lopez.)

The deal also includes Warner Bros.’ long-running People’s Court, who picked up a three-year renewal over Fox’s duopoly in New York City (WNYW/WWOR). In Chicago, the show is expected to remain on Weigel-owned CW affiliate WCIU, where it airs weekdays at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Previously, Court aired at 1 and 4 p.m. but was displaced by The CW version of Jerry Springer and new talker Tamron Hall, respectively.

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WLIT shifts to Christmas Music Tuesday

Early arrival of winter leads holiday charge

Get ready Chicago radio listeners because the Christmas season is here.

As first reported by Robert Feder, Chicago’s go-to Holly Jolly station The Lite (WLIT-FM) is launching its annual Christmas Music format Tuesday afternoon around 4:00 p.m., which usually brings big ratings to the iHeartMedia-owned station and dominates the market for three of Nielsen’s PPM surveys (November, December, and Holiday.)

“There’s no place like home for the holidays and we are delighted to be Chicagoland’s home for holiday cheer in our 19th year,” said WLIT afternoon host and program director Mick Lee in a statement to Feder. “We’re honored that so many Chicagoans include us in their annual holiday traditions, and we can’t wait to celebrate the season with Christmas music, fun contests, and a few new surprises along the way.”

With a huge crush of cold air coming in from the north and many parts of the country already recording snow (Chicago itself had around four inches of snow on Halloween), many stations have already flipped to all-Christmas music. For example, WNIC-FM in Detroit made the switch November 1, right after Halloween. Others making the leap include West Palm Beach, Green Bay, and Greenville, South Carolina. One station in Youngstown, Ohio didn’t even wait until Halloween was over to flip: they did on October 25, becoming the first station to do so.

Even though it does seem early to flip to all-Christmas music, WLIT’s flip this year is in line with recent years. In 2018, WLIT shifted to Christmas music on November 8, and on November 7 in 2017. The shift came a week later in 2014 and 2015, with each launching the format on November 12. The earliest shift came in 2006 and 2007, taking place on November 2 each year.

But for a time last week however, it seemed WLIT was going to get beat to the punch by a rival station: on Friday, Hubbard-owned WSHE-FM (100.3) teased listeners by playing Christmas music all afternoon. The station returned to regular adult contemporary/variety hits format by evening.

No word was giving why WSHE was playing Christmas music (perhaps punking out WLIT, perhaps) but given the below-average cold temperatures and early snowfall, WSHE certainly read the mood of the city correctly.

Advertisers holiday commercials already filling the airwaves as of Friday, with bows on top of cars and singing Amazon boxes and all. And of course, those Lifetime and Hallmark Christmas movies, which are already in rotation.

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Media notepad: The Mix surges back to the top

Plus: WGN replaces This with Court; Bears slide in the ratings; PlaystationVue to close

Hubbard-owned WTMX-FM (101.9 The Mix) bounce back from sixth place back into first place is certain to raise more question than answers.

After falling out of the top five last month, the hot AC station “miraculously” surged back to the top spot in the last survey, ahead of previous winner WVAZ-FM (V103) and sister station WDRV-FM (The Drive) according to Nielsen’s PPM numbers.

I cannot recall any instance where a top-rated radio station fell out of first place, low enough to bounce back to the top spot again. Is there a flaw in Nielsen’s PPM meteorology? I’m not taking anything away from the station’s success, but the results here are very questionable.

Meanwhile, another Hubbard station – WSHE-FM – has surged into a tie with WRME-FM (MeTV-FM) for tenth place as WSHE may have taken listeners from Top 40 stalwarts WKSC-FM (Kiss 103.5) and WBBM-FM (B96) as their ratings slumped – not to mention recently launching a television ad campaign, something radio stations rarely do these days.

WSHE recently added a lot of late 1990s-early 2000s era pop music to their rotation (Britney Spears, NSYNC, Matchbox 20, etc.), appealing to women ages 35-44.

Hubbard swept every daypart (with the exception of evenings, which went to V103’s Chris Michaels), with WTMX’s winning mornings (with Eric Ferguson & Co.) and afternoon drive, and The Drive tying WLS-FM for the midday lead.

With the Bears losing to the Los Angeles Chargers (a.k.a. South L.A.’s NFL team, at least for this season) in the most asinine way possible, their game Sunday dropped to a season-low 22.9 household live-plus-same day rating on Fox-owned WFLD-TV according to the Chicago Tribune.

It’s also the smallest audience for a Bears game in nearly two years. Ratings did spike to a 27 in the final quarter-hour of the game, when kicker Eddy Pineiro missed a chip-shot field goal. The ratings decline comes as the Bears continues to unravel due to quarterback’s Mitch Trubisky’s poor play and the head-scratching coaching decisions made by Matt Nagy.

Numbers from Los Angeles market were not available as the Chargers have their own ratings problems as they were playing at the same time the cross-town rival Los Angeles Rams were playing the Cincinnati Bengals in London. On October 13, a “home” game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Carson, Calif. drew the smallest ratings for NBC’s Sunday Night Football in years with the stadium filled with mostly fans of the gold and black and those terrible towels, of course. The game earned a weak 9.3 rating for NBC’s KNBC in Los Angeles.

Both the Rams and Chargers will move into their new $5 billion digs in Inglewood, Calif. next year.

Back to the Bears, you have to wonder if their poor play is starting to affect the confidence the major NFL’s rightsholders have in the team. This Sunday’s game between Chicago’s Lakefront Team and the Philadelphia Eagles is being seen in around only 12 percent of the country, according to The Bears have two prime-time SNF games on the schedule – one against the Rams on November 17 and another against the Kansas City Chiefs at home December 22. Don’t be surprised if one or both of these games (especially if Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes doesn’t return from injury) are flexed out of the NFL’s biggest stage.

After a nearly six-month wait, CourtTV finally arrived Monday to Chicago’s WGN digital subchannel universe and to eighteen other former Tribune stations, locally broadcast channel 9.3 and on cable providers Comcast and RCN.

Announced last December, CourtTV returned to the airwaves on May 8 as a diginet, but had to sit on the sidelines as Tribune had to wait out an expiring contract with This TV, a network the company had a 50 percent stake in. Since that time, Nexstar took over Tribune’s stations in a $4.1 billion merger deal. Local viewers weren’t completely shut out of CourtTV; since its debut, the channel is available online and to stream on numerous platforms including Roku and Apple TV.

Despite Nexstar’s co-ownership in the channel, CourtTV’s arrival has forced This to find new homes in former Tribune markets. In Chicago, the channel has relocated to low-power WRJK Channel 22.3, a station most area viewers can’t pick up and most cable operators doesn’t carry. This has re-located to CBS-owned stations in New York and Dallas (see below), but hasn’t had much luck in other former Tribune markets such as Indianapolis, where This has vanished completely.

With no Nexstar stations carrying the channel, look for the company to unload its ownership share, likely back to MGM as they would assume full ownership. This launched in 2008 as a partnership between MGM and Weigel Broadcasting; Tribune replaced Weigel as a partner in 2013. 

Say so long to Playstation Vue: Sony announced Monday it is shutting down the streaming service at the end of January. Reports have surfaced the streamer was being put up for sale, as Vue failed to achieve its subscriber goals.

In a blog post, Sony explained the reason why they were pulling the plug: “Unfortunately, the highly competitive Pay TV industry, with expensive content and network deals, has been slower to change than we expected. Because of this, we have decided to remain focused on our core gaming business.”

Vue debuted in March 2015 as one of the first skinny-bundle over-the-top services to appeal to cord-cutters who felt cable subscriptions were too expensive. But in recent years, other services flooded the market with the arrival of Hulu, YouTube TV, Fubo, and others offering similar services. Sony never released subscription numbers for Vue, but was understood it was anywhere between 500,000 and 800,000 subscribers. Vue was available on Playstation devices, but also available on other streaming platforms without owning a PS3 or Ps4 game system.

Vue ran into trouble in late 2016 as it dropped all Viacom-owned cable networks due to a carriage dispute and never returned. Sinclair’s 190-plus stations were also pulled from the service for several months last year.

Worse, Vue was unable to carry any CW programming on its service, even though it carried local affiliates from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and My Network TV. Vue had to black out CW programming on former affiliate WPWR as a result, though the rest of the station’s lineup wasn’t affected.

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T Dog’s Think Tank: Stump The Trump: The sequel

Predictable as a plot to a bad TV show, President Trump comes to town, bashes our city, picks up campaign cash, and leaves.

We saw a weekend where Chicagoans were fed up with a prolonged teacher’s strike and the inept play of the once-hot Chicago Bears, particularly when it came to Mitch Trubisky and head coach Matt Nagy.

And President Trump comes waltzing right in to add to our misery.

Returning to the city for the first time since 2016 when a campaign rally was abruptly canceled, Trump addressed the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference at McCormick Place where the President returned to his tired tropes about the city he loves to hate, ripping into the nation’s third-largest city for its crime rate, liberal politics, and police superintendent Eddie Johnson who refused to show up at the event.

The national media certainly took notice as The AP ran a headline “In Chicago, Trump Calls The City An Embarrassment to the US”, published on numerous websites including the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune and Black America Web.

Local television stations covered Trump’s speech from McCormick Place, but was slotted at a time most of them carried local news anyway, so no regularly scheduled programming was pre-empted with the exception of syndicated talk show The Real over Fox-owned WFLD.

CBS-owned WBBM-TV only carried parts of Trump’s speech; the station returned to regular programming at 11:30 a.m. in order not to pre-empt The Young And The Restless.

No local radio stations carried the speech, as this “news organization” reported:

Local radio or TV stations are under no obligation to carry a speech from any politician – something I pointed out earlier this year. And the last time radio stations got together to carry a speech/interview featuring former mayor Rahm Emanuel, it wasn’t received very well – except for radio consultants of course.

Given his hated for Chicago, you’re wondering why Trump is here in the first place.

Simple. Trump came here for a re-election fundraiser luncheon at his namesake building co-sponsored by Cubs co-owner Tom Ricketts – you know, the one who took games off of broadcast TV so he can make more money with his new Marquee Sports Network in partnership with Sinclair Broadcasting, a broadcaster known for right-leaning commentaries on its local newscasts.

The event drew around 250 donors, with some tickets costing upwards of $100,000. Trump is now going into Democratic-friendly cities such as Minneapolis and Los Angeles to hold fundraisers and/or rallies – and of course, sticking cities with the bills. Coming here to one up his political enemies in Chicago scores with his base, signaling he can go anywhere he wants – and of course, go where the money is. Naturally, thousands of protesters showed up in front of McCormick Place and Trump Hotel Monday, but did not come close to the chaos that took place the last time he was here.

And unlike 2016 where Trump signaled his ire only toward Chicago, he has bashed other cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

But Chicago is still his go-to place to lashing out as somebody, or something. As I’ve stated in this space for the last eleven years, Trump – and basically most conservatives uses our city as a code word for “black people” and “black-on-black violence.” You have to ask why the Police Chiefs conference was being held here in the first place, given this is the city where LaQuan McDonald was gunned down by police officer Jason Van Dyke. Inviting Trump was certainly a slap in the face to residents – especially to African-Americans and other minorities, as the President has made no secret he despises them. Think of Trump and the Police Chiefs as unwanted guests coming to your house and trashing it – and leaving you stuck with the bill to clean up the mess.

Thankfully, the public is finally tired of him as support for his impeachment is growing and he was loudly booed by Washington Nationals fans at Game 5 of the World Series Sunday night with chants of “Lock Him Up”.

Chicago may not be Trump’s kind of town, but in the end we will get the last laugh as the racist-in-chief rots in a jail cell and it can’t come soon enough.

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Fire games to stay on ESPN Plus for 2020

With team set to move back to Soldier Field, there are no plans to alter deal with streaming service

With the Chicago Fire heading back to Soldier Field for the 2020 season, there is new optimism over the soccer club.

But one thing that isn’t changing next year is the television deal.

In an article in Saturday’s Chicago Sun-Times, the team said all of its non-network games would remain on Disney-owned ESPN Plus for the 2020 season, the subscription digital platform only available as a streamer.

Speaking to the Sun-Times, Fire President and General Manger Nelson Rodriguez said the move to ESPN Plus was a success. “As we expected, ESPN (Plus) has become the home of soccer in the United States. It’s been positive for our club. More people are watching our games than before.”

Despite a losing season and lackluster attendance at Bridgeview’s Seat Geek Stadium, The Fire noted viewership for its games were up 124 percent this season from 2018, and is drawing more viewers the last year their deal with Comcast SportsNet (now NBC Sports Chicago.) However, the Fire did not provide ratings or hard numbers, and wouldn’t say if the data came from Nielsen. This comes as the team opted out of its deal with the village to play at the taxpayer-funded stadium as fans complained about the tough commute to the southwest suburb, returning to Soldier Field where they played from 1998 to 2002 and again from 2003 to 2005.

In this space, this blog criticized the move from linear TV to a streaming service when the deal was announced in 2018, reducing the reach of the team to an audience. But it turns out reach isn’t what it’s cracked up to be as the potential to earn more revenue makes up for the lack of it. Fox’s RSNs are no longer on Dish due to retransmission consent disputes, as is Altitude, who is also no longer available on DirecTV or Comcast due to the same issues, depriving Colorado fans the right to see the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche.

The Cubs formed their own network with Sinclair Broadcasting called Marquee Sports, with all non-network games airing on the channel in 2020, removing 70 over-the-air games from ABC-owned WLS-TV and longtime rights holder WGN-TV. NBC Sports Chicago made a similar deal with the Bulls, Blackhawks, and White Sox, with all games airing exclusively on the RSN effective October 1.

By contrast, the Chicago Wolves struck a deal with Fox-owned WPWR-TV to air 40 games this season, making the team the only one offering broadcast TV games. This came as the station lost CW programming to crosstown rival WCIU after just three years.

Even though WGN is now all but out of the sports business, the Fire has no plans to air any games on the Nexstar-owned station or any broadcast outlet next year.

While the team is planning to aggressively market the team in order to lure fans (and casual ones) to the Lakefront, leaving the games on ESPN Plus makes it an even harder challenge. The Fire isn’t holding any discussions on any future television deals for 2021, opening the door for the team to extend their current deal with ESPN Plus.

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Bears commit epic fail on the field but score in ratings

Bears bomb on field but not in the Nielsens

While Chicago’s public school teachers went on strike last week, it looked like the Chicago Bears joined them on the picket line as they simply decided not to show up for work at Soldier Field Sunday.

Despite a horrible performance from the Bears’ offense and from quarterback Mitch Trubisky in particular, the marquee New Orleans Saints-Chicago Bears game on Fox Sunday afternoon proved to be a huge ratings draw nationally, even with a lackluster Chicago rating and no overnight New Orleans ratings at all.

According to Nielsen, the game drew a 15.0 household overnight live-plus-same day rating, the highest week seven number for Fox in the late afternoon window in four years. Despite their small market size (50th), the Saints have been powerful draws for the major networks with three of the five highest-rated games so far this season.

Due to a change in reporting numbers effective October 3, Nielsen now delays household overnight ratings until the afternoon since the agency included out-of-home measurement. And in what seems to be a cost-cutting move, Nielsen has stopped metering overnight ratings for ten smaller markets including NFL cities Buffalo and New Orleans. Thus, overnight ratings for Saints games – or any programming in New Orleans are no longer available. The cutbacks reduces the number of Nielsen overnight markets to 46.

As for Chicago, the Bears game drew a 26 rating during the 3:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. local time frame, with the game peaking at 29 from 4:15 p.m.-4:30 p.m., according to the Chicago Tribune. But like the Bears’ performance, the ratings are disappointing given the games in the late afternoon window drew higher ratings this season were against the Denver Broncos and a dominant performance against the Minnesota Vikings – who by the way, destroyed the Detroit Lions Sunday.

Ratings dropped after 4:30 p.m. when it came clear the Bears would lose, as viewers stampeded toward the exits and literally so did fans at Soldier Field.

The Bears’ performance from Sunday reminds fans of their play from not too long ago when Jay Cutler was quarterbacking the team as they were getting blown out in game after game. Trubisky seems to be no better – in fact, he could be even worse. Even more troubling, Sunday’s rating was actually lower than what some of the games earned during that infamous 2014 season, even with out-of-home viewing factored in.

It is odd now that the only Chicago pro sports team available to watch on over-the-air television these days are the Bears. This may be something to be proud of, but only when the team isn’t playing like a sack of potatoes.

(Editor’s Note: The number of Nielsen overnight markets was incorrect in an earlier version of this post. – T. H.) 

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The Media Notepad: Chicago stations cover teachers’ strike

Also: NBC pulls two shows – but one is moving to digital. Fox 32 downgrades local show; Bless The Harts renewed for season two

To say Chicago stations had a busy week is quite an understatement: in addition to reminding viewers (constantly) about re-scanning their sets, news stations were covering the second Chicago Public School Teachers strike in the last seven years. As expected, the teachers walked off the job Thursday, leaving 300,000 students without classes. And the rhetoric at times between the two sides has approached – and surpassed FCC/Illinois legislature (under Gov. Rauner’s leadership, at least) dysfunction.

Unlike 2012, when local stations weren’t able to break into network programming due to sports commitments and had to scramble when a strike was hastily announced, the announcement was more subdued this time around as everyone expected a work stoppage to take place as negotiations weren’t really going anywhere.

On Thursday afternoon, local stations were leading off their newscasts with the strike, but by evening, it wasn’t the top story anymore – for example, WGN-TV didn’t get to the strike until 9:10 p.m. as other stories (such as Police Supt. Eddie Johnson’s medical episode and a Northwest Side carjacking) took prominence.

Still, local stations have devoted a lot of resources to cover the strike, including information for parents on their respective websites (if you can find it.) But with CPS and the teacher’s union in a standoff over numerous issues as of this writing, don’t look for a resolution anytime soon – something you’re used to if you’re a sports fan and Dish subscriber. 

And if you thought these negotiations between CPS and the teacher’s union were a disaster, wait until next year when the Writer’s Guild and the AMPTP get together to discuss a new contract. You haven’t seen nothing yet.

If what could be construed as the first downgrade of the season outside of prime-time, Fox-owned WFLD has moved late night local show Later With Leon from 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Hosted by WGCI radio personality Leon Rogers and co-hosted by reporter Tia Ewing, the show looked at the the day’s top stories. Both the iHeartMedia station and WFLD are located in close proximity with each other, in the Illinois Center complex on 205 and 233 North Michigan Avenue (for the record, I hung out at the Wow Bao every morning near WFLD’s entrances most mornings before going to work.)

Although no official reason was given for the time slot change, it was understood the four day-a-week strip was performing poorly in the ratings. Also not helping is Thursday’s show was often delayed by NFL games, pushing the show out of its 10 p.m. slot.

WFLD is still promoting the show; tickets are available to attend a taping.

On another front, WGN has now added Backstory With Larry Potash at 10 p.m. Saturday nights, with a repeat Sunday nights at 11 p.m. The local series replaced another WGN local show Man Of The People with fellow morning show anchor Pat Tomasulo in those same slots, which was canceled in July after eighteen months on the air. Backstory features long-lost facts and history many Chicagoans don’t know about, similar to what WTTW’s Geoffrey Baer does on Chicago Tonight and on numerous specials.

NBC comedy Sunnyside and Memphis-set legal drama Bluff City Law will each end their run when their episode order is complete. Sunnyside is being removed from the peacock mothership but is remaining on digital platforms, including and Hulu, even getting an extended order of one episode. Meanwhile, Bluff City is wrapping production on its ten-episode order and the network plans to air all episodes on NBC.

Even though NBC denied they are cancelling each show, their exit mark the first official fatalities of the 2019-20 season, a marked change from recent seasons when the major networks were hesitant to pull shows.

Airing on Thursdays, Sunnyside was averaging less than two million viewers in its first four episodes and drawing as low as a 0.3 rating in the adults 18-49 demo, even lower than several CW shows, even though the sitcom performed somewhat better in delayed and digital platforms. Bluff City has also performed better in those metrics, rising to a 1.1 adult 18-49 rating from a 0.7 and jumping from four million viewers to 7.4 million viewers when factored in.

The moves come as all of the major networks are experiencing year-to-year viewership erosion in prime-time. Beginning this Thursday, Sunnyside is being replaced by Will & Grace: The Final Season…Again. 

As NBC is shelving two shows, Fox has picked up animated Sunday night comedy Bless The Hearts for a second season, becoming the first series to be renewed for the 2020-21 season.

“Bless the Harts is an incredibly sharp, yet sweet, series that complements the Fox Animation Domination block perfectly,said Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn in a statement. “It simply doesn’t get much better than having a comedy anchored by talent like Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, Jillian Bell and Kumail Nanjiani. We want to thank creator and executive producer Emily Spivey, whose unique voice and personal experience brought this family to life, as well as executive producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and our partners at 20th Century Fox Television. We are thrilled to watch the Hart family experience more adventures, mishaps and boxed wine for another amazing season.”

It is not clear however, if the pickup is for thirteen episodes (which is the first season order) or for more. The series is produced by 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment.

Critiquing Harts performance is tough given the ratings of the series and the rest of Fox’s Animation Domination block tend to fluctuate week-to-week due to NFL lead-ins. And similar to numerous programs on The CW, Animation Domination tends to do better on multiplatform viewing as young viewers tend to seek out programming that way.

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Cubs’ new Marquee Network signs with DirecTV

New deal part of overall pact with Sinclair Broadcasting and AT&T.

If you don’t know what the word “leverage” means if you’re a Cubs fan and a DirecTV subscriber, you know now – and you can thank Sinclair Broadcasting.

As a part of Sinclair’s new carriage agreement with AT&T, the new Marquee Network featuring the Chicago Cubs will be available at launch for DirecTV, U-Verse, and AT&T Now subscribers. From the press release:

Baltimore, MD (October 17, 2019) – Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: SBGI), and
AT&T have agreed on a multi-year agreement across DIRECTV, AT&T TV and U-verse for continued carriage of Sinclair’s owned local broadcast stations and Tennis Channel, for future carriage of Marquee Sports Network, a regional sports network featuring games of the Chicago Cubs launching in 2020, as well as for the 21 RSN brands Sinclair recently acquired and the YES Network, in which Sinclair is a joint-venture partner.

The Hunt Valley, Md.-based broadcaster – known for its “must-run” conservative content on its local news stations, is a partner with the Cubs on the new network.

Sinclair’s carriage deal with AT&T covers the 191 television stations it owns nationwide, not to mention Marquee, the former Fox regional sports networks, and the Tennis Channel, which is already on DirecTV. Sinclair owns and/or operates numerous stations downstate including Peoria, Champaign-Springfield-Decatur, and St. Louis (even though downstate fans will get Marquee through AT&T, actual Cubs games on the channel are subject to blackout due to territorial restrictions.)

The news comes as content providers and cable and satellite companies are continuing to have carriage disputes. Dish and Fox had one a few weeks and it has been resolved, but only after Fox pulled their networks from the satellite provider for nearly two weeks.

This brings the number of deals Marquee has made up to two. Earlier, Marquee struck a deal with Charter Communications, who serves viewers in Kenosha, Wis.

All eyes are now on Dish, who recently dropped NBC Sports Chicago, Fox’s RSNs, and Colorado’s Altitude, who are also were dropped by DirecTV and Comcast (Xfinity), leaving nearly the entire state without a way to see the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche. Even though there has been complaints from fans, advertisers haven’t been too concerned as clients have yet to raise any issues. Dish has publicly stated it is considering getting out of the RSN business because it is too expensive, hurting the chances for Marquee’s carriage on the provider from the start.

The pressure is also on Comcast, RCN, and WOW, Chicago’s other cable providers to carry Marquee. The channel has also yet to strike deals with internet streamers such as Fubo, PlaystationVue, and YouTubeTV, where as rivals NBC Sports Chicago already has deals (NBC Sports Chicago currently has a short-term extension with AT&T, while a longer-term deal is being negotiated.)


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