Here’s Pat: “The Man Of The People”

WGN morning show sports anchor gets his own show

He may not own – or maybe even drive – his own car, but he now has his own TV show.

Tribune Broadcasting’s WGN-TV announced last week the creation of a weekly late-night comedy show centered around WGN Morning Show sports anchor Pat Tomasulo.

Titled Man Of The People, the series – set to begin in late January – is similar in style to Comedy Central’s The Daily Show: a look back at the week’s events in news and pop culture. It marks WGN’s first foray into entertainment programming – that isn’t a food, lifestyle, or home fix-it show – since Bozo signed off in 2001.

When the announcement came last Wednesday on the morning show, Tomasulo came in to the newsroom riding an elephant – yes riding an elephant – and gave a speech:

Oh man, you are so right regarding Flo “The Progressive Lady” (one person yours truly would like to see less of on television.)

You can tell everyone is excited, even Tom Skilling:

The series is slated to premiere in late January (either the 20th or 27th) and air Saturday nights at 10 p.m., depending on the length of sporting events, which generally occupies the station’s primetime schedule. According to WGN, the show is being taped in front of a studio audience.

Doug Karo has been tapped to be executive producer of the project. A Chicago native, Karo has produced shows for Comedy Central, Turner, and SyFy.

According to Robert Feder, WGN is even hinting at national potential for Man Of The People. WGN – like all of Tribune – is being acquired by Sinclair, who already has  weekly half-hour Full Measure With Sheryl Atkinson airing in its markets though Measure is a straight news commentary show. If People succeeds in Chicago, the program could air on other Sinclair/Tribune stations such as WPIX in New York, KTLA in Los Angeles, and WPHL in Philadelphia – and maybe Tomasulo can get a nice Cadillac (or at least a used Volkswagen.)

This isn’t the first time the name Man Of The People was used for a TV show: James Garner starred in a short-lived sitcom of the same name during the 1991-92 season, playing a grifter who fills in for his late ex-wife as alderman, resulting in chaos. Airing Sunday nights on NBC, it perished opposite CBS’ Murder She Wrote,  Fox’s In Living Color and ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Man Of The People was also used as an episode title for a sixth season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode and a 1937 film starring Joseph Calleia.

 

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K-Hits gets KO’d by Entercom; flips to Classic-Hip-Hop

Move comes as Entercom takes over CBS Radio

In a surprise major shift rocking the Chicago radio landscape, WJMK-FM flipped to Classic Hip-Hop on Friday as 104.3 Jams, replacing the Classic Hits format known as “K-Hits”.

The format change happened as Entercom closed on its purchase of CBS Radio, who officially took over the company Friday. As a result, the entire team of K-Hits personalities were released, including morning personality Dave Fogel, Jefferey T. Mason and recently-hired Brian Peck. First song played on the new 104.3 Jams at 11 a.m. was Notorious B.I.G’s “Hypnotize”.

Greg Solk is remaining as program director. As custom with most format changes, the station is playing 10,000 songs in a row, commercial-free. The station’s new website is 1043jams.com.

Classic Hip-Hop has taken off in recent years with stations in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, and Detroit. But the format’s momentum has slowed down in recent months as Urban One (formerly Radio One) dropped the format in Houston and Dallas, and Cumulus pulled the plug in Indianapolis Friday, substituting Christmas music instead.

Chicago is the largest market to get a Classic Hip-Hop station.

Earlier this year, iHeartMedia’s WISX-FM in Philadelphia abruptly flipped to Classic Hip-Hop. Urban One WPHI-FM previously had Classic Hip-Hop in the market, but added more urban currents to its playlist.

WJMK also plans to change their call letters to WBMX – bringing home a name which resonated with a generation of black Chicagoans as a Urban Contemporary station on 102.7 FM from 1973 to 1988, when it became iHeartMedia-owned V103 (WVAZ-FM). The WBMX call letters currently reside with a Boston Hot Adult Contemporary station, also owned by Entercom. The WBMX.com domain is used as a Classic R&B Internet station.

A sweeper welcomed listeners from iHeartMedia’s WGCI-FM and v103 (WVAZ-FM) to 104.3 Jams, indicating Entercom would be targeting those two stations as competition. WJMK referred to itself as “The New 104.3 Jams – Chicago’s #1 for Throwbacks.”

Ratings for WJMK as K-Hits weren’t exactly strong – recent PPM numbers showed the station in eighteenth place, far behind Cumulus’ WLS-FM and WLUP-FM; Hubbard’s WDRV-FM, and Weigel’s/Venture Technologies MeTV-FM, who each play some kind of variant of the music K-Hits played. 104.3 Jams may give Entercom however, a better chance to increase revenue for the cluster by going for younger demos.

K-Hits is K-Gone.

WJMK became K-Hits in 2011, with former WBBM-FM personalities Eddie Volkman and Joe Bohannon in morning drive. But the duo was unable to recapture their B96 glory days, and the show was dropped in late 2012. Before K-Hits, WJMK was a JACK-FM Variety Hits station, flipping from Oldies after 21 years.

There were also changes in other markets where Entercom took over CBS stations. As hinted by Radio Insight earlier in the week,  Entercom indeed flipped Top 40 AMP-FM stations in New York and Dallas to Alternative – with the former gaining an Alternative station for the first time since 2012 (the AMP station in Detroit remains Top 40 for now.)

As for the new 104.3 FM Jams, this is what the station played between 5:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. on Friday, November 17, all in the order they were played:

Fiesta – R. Kelly
P.I.M.P. – 50 Cent
Changes -2Pac
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me) – Jay-Z
Always On Time – JaRule feat. Ashanti
Ghetto Superstar (This Is What You Are) Pras feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard & Mya
Down On Me – Jeremih feat. 50 Cent
Nothing But A ‘G’ Thing – Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg
Freak Me – Silk
Lollipop – Lil’ Wayne
Big Poppa – Notorious B.I.G.
Life Your Life – T.I.l feat. Rihanna
Can I Get A…Jay-Z feat. Amil & Ja Rule
Tispy – J-Kwon
Home Alone – Keith Murray & R. Kelly

(Full disclosure: yours truly had to use Shazam to help identify at least four of the songs. Yes, I’m old.)

In a sense, this is basically hip-hop from the 1990s and 2000s – but no 1980s songs, a decade where the genre really took off. So if you’re hoping to hear Kurtis Blow, Whodini, Run D.M.C., or Tone Loc, you’re out of luck. Also present is a few R&B songs thrown in from the era – so hearing Mya, Ashanti, Jagged Edge, or early Beyonce certainly isn’t out of the question. As yours truly was driving Saturday afternoon, 104.3 Jams played “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige, a 1992 hit.

But the real question is – can a fifth urban format succeed in Chicago? For one, 104.3 Jams would draw listeners away from V103 and WGCI, the latter a one-time radio powerhouse. But Crawford’s Power 92 (WPWX) and Soul 106.3 (WSRB) could really feel the brunt. Ratings for both stations are hard to find, but Power 92 – which at one time came within striking distance of WGCI – is still competitive.

Also of concern is Chicago’s dwindling African-American population, as yours truly has noted on this blog recently. Adding 104.3 Jams could thin the pie even further. If 104.3 Jams is to be successful, it needs to attract listeners across many ethnic groups, including Latinos and crossover white audiences, who may remember listening to these songs originally from B96 and WKSC (Kiss FM, post-2001) during the era.

But as yours truly noted in September, the problem with the format on terrestrial radio is the limited playlists and censorship issues – one group you definitely won’t hear on these stations is The 2 Live Crew – even their most radio-friendly songs. Sirius XM (with Fly and Backspin) and several Internet channels from iHeartRadio and TuneIn seem to do the format better. As a fan, I would like to see Classic Hip-Hop succeed in Chicago radio. But Jams 104.3 is going to have an uphill climb.

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FCC relaxes media ownership rules, modifies lifeline program

Also approves ATSC 3.0 television transmissions

If there is any federal agency that gives the Illinois legislature a run for their money for being the most dysfunctional in the United States, the Federal Communications Commission would win hands down.

An example of this came Thursday when the FCC relaxed the media ownership rules and modified the lifeline program in votes coming down among party lines.

The Republican-led agency voted 3-2 to ease restrictions on the rules, a huge victory for broadcast companies. For one, the newspaper/radio/TV crossover rule was eliminated, meaning newspapers once again can buy radio and TV stations. Also gone is the “eight-voice test”, which meant eight television stations had to be in a market after two television stations combine. Modified was the ban against common ownership of two of the top-four stations in a given market, now decided on a case-by-case basis.

Also eliminated was the joint sales agreement attrition rules, meaning a TV station was count against the ownership cap if it sells more than fifteen percent of ad time.

Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenwarcel and Mignon Clayburn slammed the moves, calling them anti-consumer and would hurt diversity and localism. Many in the broadcast industry (notably the NAB and other TV and advertising trade groups) wanted the rules changed or eliminated, citing the need for economies of scale competition from other platforms who are not regulated, such as cable. streaming services, and tech companies such as Facebook, Apple, and Google. However, many of the nation’s TV groups make a boatload of money, thanks to retransmission consent fees and political advertising.

Not affected was the radio caps which stays at eight per market, nor the television ownership cap, which remains at 39 percent. The FCC would have to consult with Congress in order to raise the percentage number.

As for the crossownership rules, their demise comes too late for some, as many of them who were grandfathered in 1975 when they were adopted. Among the companies split in the last few years include Tribune (who split into tronc and Tribune Media), Belo (who spun-off their TV properties) and Gannett, who did likewise with the TV group remaining themselves Tegna.

Expect a legal challenge to today’s actions – in 2003, the FCC relaxed the rules only to have the courts reinstate them. This time however, the chances of the rules surviving a court challenge this time around appear to be slim to none.

The biggest winners from today’s deal are apparently big media companies. Already, there is talk about several companies vying to acquire 21st Century Fox’s portfolio of properties (excluding Fox Broadcasting, its O&Os, and Fox News) and Sinclair, who now may not have to divest many stations as they thought. This is the latest in deregulatory actions taking place this year, as Republicans became the FCC majority. Earlier, the FCC reinstated the UHF discount in a scam meant to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting, so they can buy Tribune Media.

Also voted on was the ATSC 3.0 standard broadcasters want to use to deliver Ultra high-definition 4K signals and “targeted” advertising to consumers. Once again this vote fell along a 3-2 party-line vote, with Democrats once again claiming the move would harm consumers. Currently, television stations broadcast in the ATSC 1.0 standard.

Meanwhile, the FCC also voted to modify the lifeline program in yet another party-line vote. Under the new rules, the FCC refined the rules clarifying premium Wi-Fi and other similar services does not qualify as mobile broadband under the lifeline program. Also, Chairman Ajit Pai wanted a verification process to make sure those who qualify for the program really did; the FCC Democrats suggested the process would disqualify more lower-income residents. The key to the modification  was to “prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.”

As yours truly wrote last March, eliminating the lifeline program would hurt communities hit hard by poverty and gun violence in the Chicago area – notably the West and South Sides of Chicago and numerous poor, low-income suburbs ranging from Maywood and Melrose Park to the west to many south suburbs and Northwest Indiana cities such as Hammond, Gary, and East Chicago.  The Republicans’ vote in this matter – and Pai’s in particular – tells you how little they think of these communities – many of them dominated by African-Americans and Latinos. If Pai is talking about “bridging the digital divide”, his actions Thursday widened it as much as the racial segregation persisting in Chicago.

Next up on the agenda for December is the net neutrality rules, on if there’s any indication, are likely good as gone.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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The bidding war is on for 21st Century Fox

Comcast, Verizon throw their hats into the ring

The possible sale of 21st Century Fox’s assets has now become an all-out battle royale.

CNBC reported Thursday its parent company Comcast is now exploring joining in the race to buy the studio and the Wall Street Journal reported that Verizon has also joined in.

They join Disney in seeking the rights to product such as The Simpsons and This Is Us, as a report surfaced two weeks ago.

The reports state both Comcast and Verizon approached 21st Century Fox about purchasing the part of the company up for sale, including the film studio, a large television library, and cable channels such as FX, FXX, and National Geographic (Fox’s broadcast network, owned TV stations, Fox News and Fox Sports are among the assets not for sale.)

NBC merged with Universal in 2004, and in December 2009, the Philadelphia-based cable conglomerate announced a purchase the merged entity for more than one billion. and approved by the FCC in January 2011. Comcast’s assets include NBC, Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo, several cable channels (including the aforementioned CNBC), and is a giant cable and broadband provider who serves the Chicago area.

Verizon is a giant telecommunications company who is now exploring ways to get into the content game as rival AT&T is in the process of acquiring TimeWarner, now being held up by the Justice Department.

The news further illustrates the desire of the Murdochs to move away from the entertainment business and to focus more on news and sports. Fox News alone generates a lot of revenue for 21st Century Fox.

Disney and Comcast both own broadcast networks, so buying all of 21st is not in the cards as it would run afoul of anti-trust issues. The revelations come as the FCC officially relaxed the media ownership rules, giving broadcasters more freedom to buy up each other (more on that in the next post.) Comcast owns several NBC and Telemundo stations, including WMAQ-TV and WSNS-TV here.

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Mancow sues Cumulus’ new boss – who was his old one

What’s revealed tells us about the sometime nuttiness of Chicago radio

In a testament to how weird things can get in Chicago radio, a lawsuit was filed this week by a radio personality claiming “emotional distress” after his employer hired his old boss – who allegedly had staffers send raw meat to advertisers. Really.

On Monday, Mancow Muller (who else?) filed suit in Cook County Court against his Marv Nyren for a second time, his former boss at WKQX-FM and now his new boss at classic rock WLUP-FM. He claims Nyren “diminished his reputation” and try to discourage other competitors from hiring him and fears Nyren would continue to do so under his new position at Cumulus. Muller previously sued Nyren for libel in 2007, but was settled in 2011.

Cumulus hired Mancow in March 2015 as WLUP’s new morning personality in a phony and staged “contest” (which led yours truly to regrettably declare Chicago radio the worst in the country at the time in a now infamous piece I wrote – though admittedly, I failed to take New York City urban radio into consideration – given this incident, this incident , this incident and this incident.)

Mancow reported to Nyren at WKQX until he was fired from the station in 2006. Last week, Nyren was hired as vice president and manager of Cumulus’ four stations in Chicago as the company exercised an option to purchase Merlin Media’s two remaining properties, WLUP and WKQX – both were owned by Emmis, Nyren’s and Mancow’s employers at the time.

On the second day of the job, Nyren seemed to put the bad blood between him and Mancow behind him as he told the Chicago Tribune“I’m thrilled to be working with Cumulus and Mancow. He’s really seeing some great ratings, and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

But it’s Muller who hasn’t forgotten. According to the Tribune, the lawsuit states Nyren fired Muller in a conference room and taunted him in the process. Muller was subject to a crude on-air skit celebrating his departure and WKQX sales staff even sent advertisers “raw, spoiled rotten and bloody meat”, referring to him as a “dead cow”. Muller is seeking damages, though the unspecified amount or other considerations weren’t disclosed.

Despite all of this, Muller wants to keep his employment at WLUP, according to his attorney. The suit does not seek the removal of Nyren from his newly-installed position.

Nyren’s actions did not stop Muller from being employed elsewhere – he was paired with Pat Cassidy for a short-lived WLS-AM show. His syndicated radio morning show aired on WCKG-FM beginning in 2011 and also had a daily television simulcast over Fox’s WPWR-TV starting a year later. Both came to an end in 2014.

It is hard to pick a side to root for. Nyren was certainly not well-liked at Emmis – for one, he fired Cara Carriveau (who’s now at WSHE-FM) after she made some critical comments about the radio industry in a letter to then-Sun Times media critic Robert Feder. Meanwhile, many Q101 employees found Mancow difficult to work with (when the original Q101 closed in 2011, Mancow criticized the station and didn’t take part in any of the station’s going away festivities.) And before Donald Trump starting ripping Chicago on a frequent basis, Mueller was often a critic of the city where he earns his paycheck.

As for Nyren, him approving his sales staff to send “spoiled meat” to make a point about Mancow to advertisers is about as unprofessional as it gets. Who does that? And worse, just how did he manage to return in an executive role to Chicago radio? It proves in the minds of a lot of people, Cumulus is the worst radio company in America.

Despite the fact radio is flourishing at a time alternatives such as podcasting, satellite, and Internet radio are widely available, nonsense like this – rekindling a fight from nearly twelve years ago – is stupid. At a time when the useless, paid-off FCC is busy letting media companies consolidate (this whole idiotic saga is a complete byproduct of this), radio shouldn’t give any reason for listeners and advertisers to head toward the exits – even with trade groups such as the Radio Broadcasters of Chicagoland telling clients how great radio is for advertising as those 60-second “roadblock” ads tell us. I’m certain they didn’t get the spoiled meat.

While I guess you can say this is another episode of Everybody Loves Mancow, (I’m not posting that photo again), there is a time when the joke stops being funny and becomes outright pathetic. Having clueless execs like Nyren and “talent” like Mancow still being employed in Chicago radio tells us where the medium is locally these days. Just like with Hollywood and the recent spate of sexual harassment claims being made, the culture of Chicago radio also needs to change, and the sooner the better.

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Entercom, CBS Radio close to uniting

What to expect when Entercom takes over CBS Radio Friday

A new era in radio begins Friday when Entercom closes on its deal with CBS Radio and officially takes over the company’s 244 radio stations.

In Chicago, Entercom takes over seven CBS radio stations: all-news WBBM-AM and its simulcast on WCFS-FM; sports talk WSCR-AM (The Score); Adult Album Alternative WXRT-FM; Top 40/CHR WBBM-FM (B96); country outlet WUSN-FM (US 99); and classic hits WJMK-FM (K-Hits.) As reported by Robert Feder last week, Jimmy deCastro was hired by Entercom to lead the cluster. The deal was announced on February 2.

Don’t look for any immediate changes on-air or off as all seven stations are doing well in the ratings and billing is good – for one, US99 and B96 are holding up well despite tough competition from their iHeartMedia counterparts. Recently, CBS renewed the radio deal for the Bears for several more seasons and has the rights to the Cubs for the next four seasons. Ironically, it was deCastro who passed on renewing the Cubs while he was at WGN-AM, ending a relationship with the team dating back to 1924.

It is not known what will happen to the “CBS Chicago” website, which features WBBM-AM, The Score, and CBS-owned WBBM-TV, known as CBS 2. With the radio stations officially separating from their TV counterpart, either a new joint agreement could be made to keep the sites together or have new, separate websites for all three. CBS’ TV and news/sports radio stations have joint sites here and in other markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston. In markets where CBS has radio stations but not a TV counterpart (such as “CBS Washington” and “CBS St. Louis”), look for Entercom to drop the CBS branding.

While no on-air changes are expected in Chicago, changes could be in the offering in other markets where Entercom is taking over CBS stations. On Monday, Radio Insight reported a format change to Alternative (or Modern Rock) could be in the offering to replace two struggling CHR stations, KVIL-FM in Dallas-Ft. Worth and WBMP-FM in New York (the former WXRK, once home to Howard Stern), with the latter getting hammered by competitors iHeartMedia’s WHTZ-FM and Emmis’ WHQT-FM (Hot 97). New York has been without an Alternative station since 2012 when WRXP-FM – its second stint in the format – was sold to CBS and flipped to sports talk as WFAN-FM – one of the stations Entercom is acquiring.

The Alternative angle for Entercom is interesting as the company wants to reach young male listeners – which is very difficult to do. Yours truly wrote about the state of Alternative radio in 2011 after Merlin Media pulled the plug on the original WKQX-FM (then known as Q101) and WRXP after acquiring them from Emmis to launch an all-news format. But Alternative made a comeback here in 2012 after Merlin leased time on the 87.7 FM frequency, even using the old WKQX call letters (the format and the call letters) moved back to 101.1 FM in 2014. The format has managed to survive the turmoil earlier this decade and could be preemed for growth if New York and Dallas return. Entercom would have twelve Alternative stations when the CBS deal closes – among them, the legendary KROQ-FM in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported longtime WFAN stalwart Mike Francesa is being replaced in his afternoon time slot by a trio of people – Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray, and former New York Jets player Bart Scott, beginning in mid-December, a month after the Entercom-CBS deal closes. WFAN and Francesa recently agreed to part ways.

 

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The Media Notepad: CBC program turns an international spotlight on Chicago segregation

Also: DeCastro, Nyren return to management roles; Comic-Con HQ closes and shifts to Amazon; Mavs bottom in ratings before Bulls do

Chicago’s violence epidemic is once again on the international stage – this time in Canada. Public broadcaster CBC recently aired an Chicago installment of Interrupt This Program, a series about “underground art scenes in cities under pressure and cities recovering from major traumas: war, political unrest, natural disasters or economic meltdowns.”

In its third season, Chicago is the first U.S. city Interrupt visited.

The episode airing on November 3 featured Chicago’s art scene and its response to the city’s ills – gun violence, segregation, and income inequalities plaguing our area. So why Chicago? Director Karen Cho noted: “Since 2003, there have been more American lives lost to gun bullets [in Chicago] than there have been in the Afghan and Iraq wars combined.” And artist Malcolm London said: “Chicago to me is the perfect representation of America because of the blatant hypocrisy that it holds. Downtown, we have an extreme amount of wealth, and 10 miles in any direction you have young people being buried before they turn 13 years old.” The program cited Donald Trump’s election as a tipping point, and said Chicago fits the narrative perfectly – and protests about him were a and the murder of LaQuan McDonald by police were a focal point of the show.

As a lot of you know, Trump and right-wing conservatives typically single out and bash Chicago for its gun violence problem and other urban ills, and use the city as a code word for black people, despite the city ranking fourth in the country in total African-American TV homes (and falling.)

This episode also features artists from various parts of Chicago: the dance group (known as the ERA Footwork Dance Crew) walking around their declining Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood (around 75th/King Drive) and speak about how their craft helps them channel their energy; an artist from Pilsen who talks about segregation (and notes the “viaduct”) separating her mostly Latino neighborhood from the predominately black area of the former ABLA homes area (you can view her segment here); and tagging along with London to a Young Chicago Author’s meeting, a place where writers and poets express their ideas.

The Chicago edition of Interrupt achieved in a single half-hour what CNN’s Chicagoland couldn’t do in eight hours – tell the stories of artists on how they feel living in Chicago and in America through their eyes and through their craft. And unlike the so-called Rahm Emanuel infomercial, it featured people from all over the city from the South Side to the Lower West Side to Devon Avenue. It’s too bad American media relies on over-dramatic editing and racial stereotyping to tell similar “documentary stories” regarding urban issues.

To watch the Chicago episode of Interrupt – and I urge you to do so, you will need to switch to a Canadian IP address (like I did) to view since the CBC does not allow viewers outside of Canada to stream its content. If you have one, click here to watch. Click here to learn how to switch to a Canadian IP address to watch. It’s well worth your time.

Interrupt This Program airs Friday nights on the CBC, available over-the-air (and select cable systems) in U.S. border cities such as Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, and Rochester, N.Y.


It’s Back to the future for two Chicago radio clusters: Two longtime management figures in Chicago radio have gotten new jobs in…Chicago radio. As Robert Feder reported recently, Jimmy DeCastro became the new senior vice president and market manager of Entercom’s new cluster in Chicago when it takes over on November 17 from CBS. Decastro was previously president/GM of WGN-AM (itself undergoing an owner change from Tribune to Sinclair) and of course, was the brilliant mastermind behind WLUP-AM/FM’s success in the 1980s and 1990s. Meanwhile, Marv Nyren was recently named GM of Cumulus’ four-station cluster, including recently-acquired WLUP and WKQX-FM. Nyren was boss at the original “Q101” when it and WLUP were owned by Emmis. Nyren was previously at Chicago Public Media.

While you can’t fault these conglomerates for getting the best people – and yes DeCastro has a terrific track record, the hires are a total disappointment given both companies had an opportunity to tap into some fresh faces, bringing new ideas to Chicago radio. Instead, it’s the same people dipping into the same well once again, particularly in a media business (radio, TV, tech, Hollywood, etc.) still lacking lots of diversity. Some things in Chicago radio never change, and it shows on-air.


So long and thanks for the um, crabs: As first reported by Variety, Lionsgate pulled the plug on its barely viewed Comic-Con HQ subscription video on-demand service, leaving the remaining principals to close the channel and relaunch it on Amazon and Roku’s Internet channels – for $4.99 a month (and yes, you have to pay the fee even if you are a Prime customer.) Judging by the reviews on Amazon, the channel isn’t being received well.

The Comic-Con HQ app has been pulled from Apple and Google’s app stores, and those who had the app (such as yours truly) found it no longer worked.

Launched just eighteen months ago, Comic-Con HQ promised to bring the “best of San Diego Comic-Con” through a 24/7 SVOD service with panels, live programming and theatricals in the science fiction genre. But the service never really took off with consumers, forcing the channel made cutbacks. For example, while Comic-Con HQ provided live streaming from the convention floor at 2016’s gathering in San Diego, there was no such effort this year. The channel also canceled all of its original programming.

Meanwhile its selection of product was disappointing (ALF? Really?) Also notable was the lack of Comic-Con panels on the service, which are plentiful on YouTube.

One of the few hits on the service – Con Man – was snapped up by SyFy earlier this year.


Given the awful start (and expected awful season) the Chicago Bulls got off to so far this NBA season, at least their television ratings won’t reach the horrendous depths the Dallas Mavericks reached recently. According to the Dallas Morning News, a November 4th game against the Minnesota Timberwolves drew a lowly 0.1 Nielsen household rating for FSN Southwest, perhaps the lowest rating ever for a Mavericks game in the market’s history – presumably even worst than the 1992-93 team, who won only eleven games. A game against the Washington Wizards the following Tuesday bounced back to a 1.0 rating.

Believe it or not, the Mavs have the worst record in the NBA this season as of this writing (2-12), with the Bulls right behind them as their rebuilding effort continues (nothing says ratings repellent than the word “rebuild” – ask the White Sox.) Ratings for this season’s Bulls games weren’t available, but if anyone were to make a guess, the season average isn’t probably no better than the Mavericks game on November 7th.

At least there’s some good news for Bulls fans this week: the NBA All-Star Game was awarded to Chicago in 2020 for the first time in 32 years.

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Disney blacklisted L.A. Times after report on how the company influences Anaheim politics

For the Los Angeles Times, this hasn’t been exactly the happiest place on earth. A statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse outside Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif.

Mega company blocks newspaper from reviewing movie; report on Disney’s relationship with Anaheim to blame; ban reversed under pressure

In a worrisome trend, Disney barred film critics at the Los Angeles Times from an advanced press screening of the Marvel movie Thor: Rangarok last week, setting off a huge firestorm. After film critics from other publications (New York Times, Washington Post, etc.) announced they wouldn’t attend or review Disney features – and film critics associations would disqualify Disney films from their year-end awards – and a reprimand from the Television Critics Association, Disney on Tuesday relented on the ban.

“We’ve had productive discussions with the newly installed leadership at The Los Angeles Times regarding our specific concerns, and as a result, we’ve agreed to restore access to advance screenings for their film critics,” Disney said in a statement. But Disney did not apologize to the Los Angeles Times for their treatment of the newspaper.

The Los Angeles Times is owned by Chicago-based tronc, owners of the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune however, nor other tronc-owned properties (Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel) participated in the protest against Disney.

The decision to bar the L.A. Times came when the paper in September published an investigation on how Disney influenced politics in Anaheim, Calif., a city 26 miles southeast of Downtown Los Angeles and is home to Disneyland Park, opened in 1955 and built by Walt Disney himself and opened another park in Anaheim in 2001, California Adventure. The story featured on how Disney was able to infiltrate politics in the city, funneling money through Political Action Committees (PACs) to support candidates who naturally supported them and receiving huge tax breaks to continue investing in the city.

Disney did not appreciate the coverage, calling the report “a complete disregard for journalistic standards” and said it was a “biased and inaccurate series, wholly driven by a political agenda–so much so that the Orange County Register referred to the report as ‘a hit piece’ with a ‘seemingly predetermined narrative.’

In the second-ranked Los Angeles market, Disney is the parent of ABC-owned KABC-TV and sports radio talk KSPN-AM, ESPN’s radio affiliate. The company at one time also owned independent KCAL-TV, but was forced to sell after Disney bought ABC in 1996 as at the time, stations were not allowed to own two TV stations in the same market. Disney also owned the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks and baseball’s California/Anaheim Angels, now known as The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Both were sold around twelve years ago.

The decision to reverse the ban comes as Disney is rumored to buy most of the properties of 21st Century Fox, giving them a bigger slice of the entertainment market.

This is not the first time Disney has been accused of an “abuse of power”. As yours truly wrote earlier, Disney bosses reportedly forced ABC to renew struggling action hour Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. despite low ratings as previous Friday occupant Last Man Standing drew more than double the adult 18-49 rating than S.H.I.E.L.D did last season. In the past, the financial interest and syndication rules prohibited studios from owning broadcast networks, preventing these types of abuses. When the rules became invalid in the mid-1990s, scenarios like this are now becoming more common.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Disney backed off the ban is because of the bad publicity it created – not to mention the growing chorus of critics joining the Los Angeles Times in solidarity, saying they wouldn’t attend press screenings for any Disney movies – with a new Star Wars movie coming up. Can Disney really afford that?

As the useless, paid-off-by-lobbyists FCC ramps up the process of further deregulating the industry – thanks in part to the Trump administration, look for more of this. Disney’s actions – trying to retaliate against the Los Angeles Times for something they are supposed to do – to be the eyes and ears of the people in Southern California – is alarming and concerning. With the fifth estate under attack every day thanks to the dictator-in-chief, our democracy is at stake. And with media consolidation all but a certainty, it is never been more important these days to have a free, independent press.

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21st Century Fox, Disney in talks to merge

The two rivals are discussing, but would not include some Fox properties, including Fox News and Chicago’s WFLD-TV

Itchy and Scratchy joining forces with Mickey Mouse? It could happen.

As first reported by CNBC Monday, 21st Century Fox is considering selling part of their assets to the Walt Disney Company.

The proposed deal would not include Fox Broadcasting, Fox O&Os, Fox Sports, or Fox News and sister Fox Business, according to the report. In Chicago, Fox owns WFLD-TV and CW affiliate WPWR; Disney parent ABC owns WLS-TV and WMVP-AM, branded as ESPN 1000. ESPN is also owned by Disney. The FCC is expected to revise the ownership rules soon, which could make owning an ABC and Fox station in the same market possible.

But 21st Century Fox would sell everything else – including its iconic film and television studio and a library featuring more than 100,000 hours of content, ranging from Dobie Gillis to M*A*S*H.  Programming 21st Century Fox owns include humongous cash cow The Simpsons and the X-Men theatrical franchise. Other current programming on the air (besides Simpsons) include Family Guy, The Orville, Empire, This Is Us, and The Gifted, which is a co-production with Disney-owned Marvel. Also on the block is Fox’s cable networks including FX, FXX, and National Geographic (FS1, FS2, BTN, and Fox’s regional sports networks would not be part of this transaction as any deal with ESPN would raise anti-competitive issues.)

Historically, Disney hasn’t had much of a TV presence until 1985, when Touchstone Television (now ABC Studios) was formed. TV shows currently produced by Disney include Grey’s Anatomy, black-ish, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Scandal. In addition to ABC and ESPN, Disney owns Freeform, Disney Channel, and Disney XD, among others.

For syndication, the deal would include Twentieth Television, which could be dissolved into Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution. Current product distributed by Twentieth include Page Six TV, Top 30, and Divorce Court; Disney-ABC has Live With Kelly and RyanWho Wants To Be A Millionaire, Right This Minute, and Pickler and Ben in limited-distribution.

And yes, this would unite Marvel’s X-Men and Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Fox holds the film and TV rights to those properties.

The moves come as Disney is preparing to launch its own streaming service in 2019 to compete with Netflix, and the company is looking to bulk up on product.

Of course, nothing is finalized yet – neither side has talked to each other recently. But the rumors comes in a back drop as two big media mergers are on the horizon: AT&T-Time Warner, and Sinclair-Tribune. 21st Century Fox reportedly tried to buy Tribune Media in a joint bid with a financial firm to keep the company out of the hands of Sinclair but failed; recently Fox had discussed a deal with Ion Media regarding possible affiliation in some Sinclair markets.

The million dollar question is this: what would Fox do without a vertical integration partner? It would put the network – and its owned stations without one and could put them in a distinct disadvantage as opposed to other networks and studios. Fox has struggled in prime-time ratings in recent years, with American Idol heading to all places, ABC. Also, Fox Broadcasting has been overshadowed by its news counterpart for the last few years, creating a huge identity problem – when you think of Fox, you think of news slanted toward the GOP, not Homer Simpson or Lucious Lyon.

So, why is 21st Century Fox putting much of itself up on the block? Many media companies cite competition from Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Netflix as the tech companies are increasing their content output and operate freely without regulation. Traditional media companies don’t have the economies of scale their tech counterparts have and this is one of the reasons why we’re seeing so many proposed mergers (Sinclair-Tribune, CBS-Entercom, etc.)

Another reason why chairman Rupert Murdoch may be willing to sell? His proposed takeover of a majority stake of broadcaster Sky in the United Kingdom is running into trouble with Ofcom, Britain’s broadcast regulator.

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The Media Notepad: Lisa Madigan opposes Sinclair-Tribune merger

Also: Sinclair passes on O’Reilly; Grim reaper closing in on WYCC; World Series a ratings hit; The Twilight Zone to be rebooted. Again.

Given the huge number of items making news this week, it’s time for another edition of The Media Notepad:

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is among those calling for the Sinclair-Tribune deal to be rejected. According to Broadcasting & Cable, Madigan and her fellow colleagues from Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island believe the merger “fails to further the public interest by allowing for increased consolidation that will decrease consumer choices and voices in the marketplace.” The Attorney Generals also fear the deal could raise cable prices for consumers. They are urging the FCC to block it – or at least postpone the decision until the legal challenges on the UHF discount were completed.

Meanwhile, the National Cable Television Cooperative – who represents smaller cable companies such as Wide Open West (WOW!), also cast its thumbs down on the deal, saying it would hurt small cable operators in retransmission negotiations. Many cable operators opposite the deal, fearing Sinclair would have significant leverage over them in retransmission content negotiations (the amount of money they pay to carry the broadcasters’ signal.)

On the flipside, Chicago’s Central City Productions endorsed the deal, given Sinclair’s support of the company’s African-American programming efforts such as Our World With Black Enterprise and Hispanic College Quiz. Central City also produces the Bud Billiken Parade for ABC-owned WLS-TV.

On a related note, Madigan announced recently she is not running for re-election for the office.


And speaking of Sinclair, don’t look for the controversial broadcaster to hire O’Reilly after all. During an earnings conference call Wednesday, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said O’Reilly approached Sinclair for a job, but apparently passed. The news should come as a relief to stations as O’Reilly would likely deliver  a 55-plus audience to them and wouldn’t be compatible with Fox or CW affiliates – not to mention O’Reilly is an advertiser repellent due to sexual harassment charges.

Sources say O’Reilly is now pursing a deal with NewsMax, a small right-wing news network.


You’ve heard of “Franken-FM” station (on the 87.7 FM frequency when the FCC considered getting rid of it) but a “Franken TV” station? That’s what WYCC has become as the station is the process of winding down operations as they sold their spectrum in the incentive auction. As a result, the stations dropped PBS programming two weeks ago and is airing MHz Worldview programming (already available on digital channel 20.3) 24/7 in its place.

Viewers can still view PBS programming on WTTW and its numerous digital subchannels and Northwestern Indiana’s WYIN-TV (known as Lakeshore Public Media), depending on where you live in the Chicago area. WYCC still hopes to strike a channel-sharing deal with WTTW, but chances are becoming slimmer and slimmer on that front. If it does happen, MHz Worldview would join WTTW’s diginet lineup branded by WYCC.

Run by The City Colleges of Chicago, the station is now down to only a handful of employees with the station is expected to sign off on November 27. All local programming on WYCC has been suspended permanently.


Regarding this year’s World Series ratings, let’s get one thing out of the way first: The numbers are down from last year across the board when the Chicago Cubs appeared and their historic victory. With that said, the Dodgers-Astros matchup was a home run for Fox, averaging 18.7 million viewers and a 10.6 household rating with a 5.0 among adults 18-49. Game seven of the Astros’ clincher drew 28.2 million viewers and a 8.2 rating among adults 18-49. The World Series could likely top the week as Sunday Night Football features the 3-5 Oakland Raiders and the 4-3 Miami Dolphins, led by former Bears QB Jay Cutler – not exactly a great rematch of the 1973 AFC Championship Game.

In Houston, Game 7 delivered a 47.1 for KRIV in Houston – the highest non-football rating in the history of the station, and eclipsed the 45.3 earned during Game 3 of the 2005 World Series, where they were defeated by the eventual champion Chicago White Sox in a four-game sweep. Remember when the Astros once had a 0.0 rating for a late September 2013 game (when the team finished with more than 100 losses?) My oh my how times have changed. The Astros World Series’ victory is the first for its the franchise in its 55-year history.

In Los Angeles, KTTV (home of Dodgers’ telecasts from 1958-92) earned a 36.7 rating, down tremendously from the 42 rating the station achieved for Game 7 for the 2002 World Series featuring the team’s I-5 archrival down the freeway, the Anaheim Angels – now named the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Or something like that.

Both KRIV and KTTV are owned by Fox.


Get ready for yet another revival of The Twlight Zone – CBS is planning to launch a new version of the Rod Serling classic anthology series on its paid subscription service CBS All Access – this time with comedian Jordan Peele. No further information was made available.

Twilight Zone premiered on CBS in October 1959 and ran for three seasons before cancellation. The series returned in January 1963 as an hour-long show before reverting back to an half-hour in September 1963 before it was canceled for good in January 1964. The series returned to CBS in September 1985 and ran until the summer of 1987, with a first-run syndicated revival shot in Canada (via MGM/UA, as CBS couldn’t syndicate the show at the time due to fin-syn rules) during the 1988-89 season. The series returned again – this time to UPN in 2002.

The original series was sold into off-network syndication by CBS Films (now CBS Television Distribution) in 1965.

There is no word if science-fiction writers are involved in the new project – during the original and the ’80s version of the show, several known sci-fi writers were involved in the show, including Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and J. Michael Straczynski (whom I saw at a C2E2 panel in 2012.)

Both Serling and Ellison had battles with CBS over Zone episodes – in 1960, Serling fought with then president James Aubrey about the show’s production costs, where as six episodes during the 1960-61 wound up shot on videotape (when those episodes went into syndication, they were converted to kinescope, making the picture quality a lot left to be desired.) Ellison meanwhile, battled with the network over a script he adapted 1985 Christmas episode about an obinxous Snata Claus.

Peele (of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele fame) directed and starred in the theatrical Get Out, described as a African-American version of The Twilight Zone.

 

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DNA Info Chicago shuts its doors

Online news publication ceases operations; unionizing employees in New York could be reason

Billionaire patriarch Joe Ricketts announced Thursday he was closing DNA Info and the “ist” online publications, effective immediately. Gone are DNA Info Chicago and is sister news site, DNA Info New York. Also gone are the related “ist” sites (Gothamist, LAist, Chicagoist, etc.) based in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. Ricketts acquired those earlier this year.

The Ricketts family owns the Chicago Cubs, who bought the team from the Tribune Co. in 2009.

On DNA Info’s website Ricketts explained why he was ending the site after eight years. You can read the full text here.

While Ricketts declined to say what was the direct reason why DNA Info was closing, members of its New York site recently voted to unionize. Ricketts was known in circles to be anti-union.

DNA Info was a “hyper-local” news website, focusing on neighborhood news. In Chicago, news was divided into several sections based on what neighborhood you lived in. For example, the neighborhood yours truly lives in (Avalon Park), was grouped in a section including Chatham and Auburn Gresham, while on the North Side, Lincoln Park was joined together with Lakeview. DNA Info however, did not extend its reporting to Chicago’s suburbs.

The publication also featured some recognizable talent including former Sun-Times reporter and columnist Mark Konkol, who left DNA Info a few years back.

With the closure, DNA Info employees will continue to get paid for the next three weeks, and receive four weeks severance. DNA officials also said the journalists’ work would be archived, though declined to elaborate how they would do so.

The departure of DNA Info is a huge blow for local journalism in Chicago, as many neighborhood stories – including some on North Side gang violence (notably around the area of Addison and Lake Shore Drive) wasn’t usually covered by the Sun-Times, Tribune, or local news channels.

This comes at a time when media consolidation is ramping up – thanks in part to the FCC’s willingness to let big media companies get even bigger. Sinclair Broadcasting is in the process of acquiring Tribune Media, owners of WGN-TV and WGN-AM, and likely would impose job cuts throughout the soon-to-be former broadcast group – meaning WGN and other Tribune stations would have their resources to cover neighborhood news cut (but plenty of time to feature Trump-loving commentators Mark Hyman and Boris Epshteyn.)

In a recent article of Broadcasting and Cable involving the deregulation of the media ownership rules – scheduled for November 16, the trade magazine noted“FCC officials speaking on background outlined the combination order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Thursday [Oct. 26] prior to its release late in the day, and outline the reasons behind its proposal, notably that in a world filled with digital competitors, the rules are outdated.”

Well, one of those digital competitors a lot of people depended on for news in their neighborhood is no longer in operation. Your move, FCC.

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Fueled by Ferguson: WTMX tops the PPM charts

Thanks to Eric Ferguson and Co., The Mix reaches number one in the last non-Christmas book of 2017

For the first time in recent memory, Hubbard Broadcasting’s WTMX-FM – known as The Mix 101.9 FM – topped the ratings charts, dethroning Urban Adult Contemporary outlet WVAZ-FM (V103).

According to the Nielsen PPM “October” survey – running from September 14th to October 11th, WTMX trended up with a 12 percent increase to first place, benefiting from an unexplained 14 percent drop for V103, month-to-month. The Mix’s numbers are the best in nearly a year.

The surge no doubt is fueled by the newly rejuvenated morning show with Eric Ferguson – now without Kathy Hart, who was released from the station last month. The duo were paired together for 21 years, but reports surfaced regarding tension between the two, leading Hart to take an unexplained absence in April, never to return.

Since her departure, Ferguson’s show hasn’t missed a beat – now with Melissa McGurren and Brian”Whip” Paurch sharing billing as the morning show continues to dominate the ratings, thanks to its strong female listenership.

And WTMX isn’t just number one in 6+. According to an analysis done by consulting group Research Director, Inc. for All Access Music Group, WTMX swept the October book by finishing first in all key demos – particularly in the all-important adult 25-54 measurement. It’s no doubt Ferguson’s morning show is the engine keeping listeners tuned in for the entire day.

Known in the trades as an Hot Adult Contemporary station, or Adult Top 40 (minus the urban and hip-hop acts often found in Contemporary Hit Radio), WTMX’s core artists include Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Charlie Puth, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Adele. Other influential stations reporting to Mediabase’s Hot AC Panel include WPLJ-FM in New York, KBIG-FM in Los Angeles, WDVD-FM in Detroit, and Sirius/XM’s Pulse Channel 15. The PPM October survey in Los Angeles showed KBIG completely dominating its competition.

Meanwhile, the Cubs’ playoff run helped WSCR to fourth place, just behind all-news WBBM-AM, who finished third. Other local stations struggled, notably WKSC-FM, WBBM-FM, WGCI-FM and WKQX-FM, all slipping in key young demos (thanks in part to its audience heading back to school.)

As for V103, it is hard to explain why the station nearly lost a full ratings point month-to-month – which is unusual, even for an Urban AC – the format does have the same kind of month-to-month ratings fluctuations other formats have. V103 ratings have maintained well despite the loss of African-American residents from the Chicago market, as reported here last week.

It is however, hard to pinpoint whether or point the city’s black radio stations are losing share as a result. Two such stations – Crawford’s WPWX-FM and WSRB-FM are no longer listed in the ratings chart provided by Radio Online for unknown reasons, making it hard to see how the stations are performing. One positive note: WGCI remains in the top ten, the stations still does well in the adult 18-34 demo with a second place finish, according to Research Director.

Unfortunately, this survey is the last one without an influence from the “Holly Jolly” format – otherwise known as Christmas music as stations across the country (such as WLIT) switch to the seasonal format for higher ratings and revenue, drawing listeners from other radio stations. The next book to get a good measure on how the medium is doing won’t be until January.

Meet WLIT’s newest DJ. He’s a seasonal worker. (Credit: Chicago Business Journal)

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The Media Notepad: Bears ratings up thanks to Mitch Trubisky

Anthem protests, weak record doesn’t deter fans

Also news on a former Bears star; NBC 5; FCC

(Editor’s Note: An earlier draft of this post mistakenly featured a picture of Drew Brees  for the first item. Apologies. -T.H.)  

While ratings for the NFL have declined nationally – allegedly due to anthem protests, that is not the case in Chicago – at least with the Bears.

According to the Chicago Tribune, ratings for Bears games are up from last year despite the team’s continued on-the field woes. The first eight games of the season have averaged a 20.2 household rating, up 5 percent from last year at this time when the team was heading into a bye week.

The Tribune also points out the number of homes watching the Bears also grew – but not by much. The increase was only by about 1600 homes because the size of the Chicago market has shrunk, according to the newspaper. As yours truly reported last week, the number of homes in the Chicago market dropped by 163,340 from last season according to Nielsen with roughly a quarter of them African-American. The decrease may have also impacted the Cubs’ playoff numbers – ratings for the defending World Champions (who are no longer defending) were down from last year, although getting blown out in a few of those NLCS games against the Dodgers didn’t help.

Sunday’s loss to the Saints earned the Bears a 20.5 household rating for WFLD-TV Sunday.

The reason for the ratings increase is obvious: Mitch Trubisky. The hype surrounding the rookie from North Carolina is driving viewership – and the Bears have been in every game right up to the end. A recent Monday Night Bears game outdrew a Cubs playoff game on the same day – though the Cubs game aired in early fringe (afternoon).

The anthem protests also don’t seem to have an impact on Bears viewership here, unlike elsewhere where the numbers are taking a hit. Excluding week three when most players demonstrated some kind of protest during the national anthem, no Bears player has taken part so far.


Speaking of the Bears, a former player of the team has landed another co-hosting gig. Anthony “Spice” Adams, who co-hosts Inside The Bears with Lauren Screeden on WFLD and sister station WPWR, has been tapped to co-host The Great American Baking Show, a holiday mini-series scheduled to air on ABC starting December 7. His co-host is Ayesha Curry, who is an author of several cookbooks and is wife of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.

The series has aired on ABC in the past as The Great Holiday Baking Show and has drawn decent ratings. The series is based on UK broadcaster Channel 4’s The Great British Bake Off (which also airs on Canada’s CBC and on PBS as The Great British Baking Show) and is scheduled to run for three weeks.

Adams played for the Bears and the San Francisco 49ers before he retired in 2011. Produced by the team, Inside the Bears airs on WPWR Saturdays at 6 p.m. and WFLD Sundays at 11:05 p.m. year-round. To see more of Bears, click here.


Good grief, it looks like NBC-owned WMAQ’s 10 p.m. news ratings have fallen into a ravine – the newscast has fallen further behind ABC-owned WLS-TV in recent weeks with year-to-year losses in households and in adults 25-54. And this comes despite the return of Rob Stafford to the anchor desk, after months of being out due to a medical condition.

This comes as ABC 7 has cemented its position on top at 10 p.m., thanks in part to the success of its parent network’s new Monday night drama The Good Doctor, which has been the surprise standout this fall season.

Meanwhile, household ratings for CBS-owned WBBM-TV has increased for its 10 p.m. news show – up from October 2016.

Late newscasts for ABC 7 and NBC 5 were impacted by the Cubs playoff run with games extending well past 10 p.m. – although this was also the case in October 2016 and during the Blackhawks’ numerous playoff runs.

As for NBC 5, it is hard to pinpoint what the problems are, but yours truly has noticed the station speeds through several stories in the first and second blocks, with several news items lasting thirty seconds or less – similar to new first-run syndicated strip Top 30. Not sure if this is a smart strategy for a local newscast going forward.


In an unprecedented move, it looks like the FCC is going full-steam ahead on media consolidation. Among items on the menu in their November 16 meeting include a possible vote on media ownership rules – including eliminating the “eight voice test”, i.e. determining the number of independent media voices in a given market, and axing the TV/radio/newspaper ownership rule, on the books for 42 years.

Already, the FCC Main studio rule was eliminated last week in a 3-2 bitterly partisan vote.

These rules were dropped before – in 2003, then-Chairman Michael Powell eliminated the cross-ownership rules and other regulations, but an appeals court halted action – leaving them in place. It’s unlikely the courts would take action this time thanks to new tech competitors (Netflix, Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.) with industry groups claiming the tech giants have eaten up local share and revenue – even though the latter two have been embroiled in “fake news” controversies.

There have been some recent splits of grandfathered combos, going back for 1975 when the cross-ownership rules were adopted. For one, CBS Radio is being sold to Entercom, which would technically separate them from their CBS-owned sister TV counterparts in top markets. Tribune split into two in 2014, with Tribune Publishing renaming itself Tronc and its former Tribune Media TV arm now being sold to Sinclair. Some radio-TV-newspapers combo still exist – mainly in Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and Dayton.

Will we see more consolidation? In Chicago, don’t look for Tronc nor the Chicago Sun-Times – who was recently bought by a consortium led by former Alderman Edwin Eisendrath and several union groups – to buy any TV or radio stations anytime soon. A purchase of WGN-AM from Tribune/Sinclair for example, would not be financially viable for either of them – at least in the near term.

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Bill O’Reilly headed to Sinclair?

Host Bill O’Reilly appears on “The O’Reilly Factor” on The FOX News Channel at FOX Studios on March 17, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Could be a liability for some local stations

Bottom Line With Bill may be coming to a station near you.

Reports are surfacing once again regarding Bill O’Reilly heading to Sinclair Broadcasting. According to NBC news’s Claire Atkinson, Sinclair is in talks with the former Fox News host as he could anchor a two-hour block on their stations – including those being acquired from Tribune Broadcasting, owners of WGN-TV and WGN Radio.

A source said Sinclair is considering the two-hour block, starting at either 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. encompassing the prime-access hour, leading into prime-time. Excluding WGN, who runs local news at 6, almost all Sinclair and Tribune stations are affiliates of the five major networks.

As you’ve heard by now, O’Reilly settled sexual harassment lawsuits while at Fox News for $32 million and then had his contract renewed as first reported by the New York Times on October 22, something O’Reilly has denied. O’Reilly was fired by Fox in April over continuing sexual harassment allegations.

Sinclair initially denied they were in talks with O’Reilly nor turning soon-to-be acquired WGN America to a cable news network to compete with Fox News.

The news comes as Sinclair is coming under increased scrutiny for its news operations, which forces stations to run right-wing commentaries featuring Mark Hyman and former Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn. Many groups – on the left and the right have opposed the merger between Sinclair and Tribune. This week, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) became the first local politician to oppose the deal. The FCC reinstated the “UHF discount” this year as a “gift” to Sinclair, who is looking to buy more stations to have more leverage over its business partners, including syndicators, cable and satellite companies (over retransmission consent fees) and the five broadcast networks.

So would Sinclair go through with these plans?

Putting O’Reilly on Sinclair in the prime-access hour would be difficult – for one, most stations have existing contracts to syndicated fare such as Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Inside Edition (one of O’Reilly’s former shows), and Entertainment Tonight. On Tribune’s New York and Los Angeles stations, off-network sitcoms such as The Goldbergs (at WPIX) and Two And A Half Men (at KTLA) are present. Downgrading those shows could hurt their national ratings.

Second, O’Reilly’s much-older skew – many are in the 55-plus demo – would be a liability to some Sinclair stations, especially those who are Fox or CW affiliates as he would be leading right into those younger-skewing programs. O’Reilly’s presence would send viewers of those traditionally younger-skewing stations stampeding for the exits, potentially affecting lead-ins for those shows. Already, many young viewers are abandoning live over-the-air network television for other alternatives and this gives them another reason not to tune in.

And while Sinclair would own the show – meaning no license fees (the networks have perfected this to an art form), O’Reilly’s controversial nature – especially after the sexual harassment allegations – would hurt his ability to attract even decent national advertising and could have a ripple effect.

In all, Sinclair’s pursuit of O’Reilly makes no sense and is one of the most inane ideas yours truly has ever heard of…this week. While it is understandable to produce your own programming, it would have to meet the station’s “brand”. Can you imagine Bill O’Reilly in one of those “Dare To Defy” promos for Sinclair CW affiliates WVTV in MIlwaukee or WUCW in Minneapolis?  Pushing a right-wing agenda on stations not equipped to do so would be like putting a scoop of ice cream on a grill – you would have a “hot mess” and that’s what this project will be if it goes forward.

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T Dog’s Think Tank: “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” renewed – but how?

Renewal of low-rated ABC action drama would not be possible if the network’s parent company didn’t own the show – and it may be a harbinger for things to come regarding network television

On the surface, the weak ratings for ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD should have earned the series its cancellation stripes – but didn’t.

Why?

A few weeks ago, reports surfaced parent The Walt Disney Company ordered a renewal of the show despite lackluster ratings over ABC’s objections – a rarity in the network-decision process. Reportedly, the decision was made as tensions are surfacing between ABC and Marvel over the lackluster launch of Inhumans. ABC and Marvel are both owned by Disney.

Highly touted and promoted, Agents of SHIELD premiered with 12 million viewers in 2013, but ratings had been steadily shrinking for years, despite an improvement in quality. Its off-network syndication run – handled by Disney-ABC Domestic Television – abruptly ended last month when Fox-owned programming service My Network TV canceled the show and replaced it with Dateline reruns (SHIELD was also dropped from weekend syndication.)

So starting in December, SHIELD replaces the much-derided Inhumans. And fans of SHIELD can thank something known as vertical integration – made possible by the demise of the financial interest and syndication rules. It’s an issue yours truly brought up before when mediocre sitcom According To Jim – also produced by ABC Studios, managed to last eight long years on the network.

In 1970, Congress passed the financial interest and syndication rules – fin-syn for short, booting the broadcast networks out of the syndication business and placed certain restrictions on how much network-owned programming they can run in prime-time and even defined a network as one who provided programming in prime-time more than fifteen hours a week, leading to a rise in independent production companies such as MTM and Carsey-Werner Productions. Launching as “the fourth network” in 1987, Fox got around this by programming exactly fifteen primetime hours a week (the Sunday 7 p.m. ET slot for some reason, didn’t count) – meaning the rules didn’t apply to them as long they did so. Parent company News Corp. (now 21st Century Fox) owned a huge syndication business and a film studio.

With cable TV expanding, the fin-syn rules expired in the 1990s, freeing the networks to merge with studios and paving the way for others such as UPN and The WB (since merged as The CW.) In 1996, The Walt Disney Company bought ABC leading to consolidation in the media business as regulations went away with the broadcast networks re-entering the syndication business.

It took a while, but by 2005, networks filled their airwaves once again with their own product. In 2009, Disney bought Marvel in order to bring more of their properties to the small screen – namely ABC.

From 2015: Marvel’s “Kick” panel at C2E2 with Hayley Atwell (i) and Ming-Na Wen (T Dog Media)

The absence of the rules were felt last May when Last Man Standing – a sitcom starring Tim Allen produced by Fox’s Twentieth Television – was canceled after six seasons but earned a 1.6 adult 18-49 rating in its Friday night time slot, a pretty good number on a night few people are watching TV. SHIELD meanwhile, languished on Tuesdays with a rating half that.

But SHIELD got the nod anyway. Why? ABC had to pay a license fee to Twentieth and did not own Last Man Standing. SHIELD on the other hand, is produced in-house by Disney-owned ABC Studios and didn’t have to deal with licensing fees.

Meanwhile, ABC’s ratings on Friday night plummeted with ABC Studios’ Once Upon A Time and Inhumans with ratings well below a one. ABC is behind CBS and NBC among adults 18-49 so far this season in primetime.

Now don’t get me wrong – yours truly is a huge SHIELD fan and has attended panels on the show at C2E2 every year. But the thought of a studio making a decision for a broadcast network what to air and what doesn’t is scary and it smacks of favoritism. It speaks to a reason why the fin-syn rules were created in the first place.

Should there be calls for congressional and FCC investigations? Given the current deregulatory environment in Washington under the Trump administration, don’t count on it. In fact, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he wants to “weed-whack” regulations – for one, the FCC last Tuesday eliminated the main studio rule in a bitter partisan vote, in addition to cuts in the “lifeline” program – hurting poor and minority communities throughout the Chicago area and elsewhere.

Pai is proposing major deregulation initiatives including eliminating most, if not all, regulations on the books, including modifying the ownership rules – benefiting huge media conglomerates such as Disney and Sinclair on the TV side and iHeartMedia and Cumulus on the radio side.

The good news is, creators have more places to take their ideas – as opposed to the 1950’s and 1960’s when there were no alternatives (other than first-run syndication) and the networks controlled everything. As a result, streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu are thriving while other platforms such as YouTube Red and Crackle are gaining a foothold. In fact, Shonda Rhimes was recently hired away by Netflix from ABC Studios to develop new programming – signaling a shift in the business.

As more and more viewers abandon network prime-time programming, the only saving grace is it’s still a great vehicle for advertisers and it’s reach is second to none. But there has to be concern on how decisions like this are made regarding how shows are scheduled. With the potential for abuse, advertisers and affiliates need to speak up.

While the renewal of SHIELD is great for us fans, the manner in it was renewed isn’t a good look for over-the-air broadcast network television.

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