1. The proposed merger of Disney and 21st Century Fox and AT&T and Time Warner. All eyes will be on these two as they make a case to federal regulators to combine as we see how this transition pans out. Meanwhile, Time Warner and AT&T face an uphill fight to unify their companies, as they are taking their case against the Justice Department to court. We could also see more media mergers in 2018.
Disney and Fox’s merger is still on track as planned, but the Justice Department appealed a judge’s decision to unify AT&T and TimeWarner (now Warner Media) in a scenario that now could play out in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
2. Sinclair’s takeover of Tribune. If (and when) the FCC approves the deal, the biggest question is what would WGN-TV and the other Tribune stations look like? Will they adapt the same conservative-leaning news format other Sinclair stations have developed? Also, is WGN Radio going to continue with its friendly, general-talk format?
The Sinclair-Tribune deal collapsed after the FCC raised questions about Sinclair’s control of New York and Chicago stations after Sinclair planned to spin them off and still operate them. Tribune later made a deal with Nexstar for its stations.
3. Big daytime TV shakeup coming. Speaking of Sinclair, their acquisition of Tribune is also holding up programming deals, leaving more shows on the bubble than usual. With Sinclair turning a cold shoulder to conflict talk shows, longtime stalwarts Maury Povich and Jerry Springer (both whom are close to 80) could be finally riding into the sunset. Meanwhile, decisions on Harry Connick Jr.’s talk show and many other syndicated programs are also due. One fate has been already determined with the cancellation of CW’s The Robert Irvine Show.
While “Maury” received a two-year renewal deal, it was curtains for “Harry” and “Jerry”, whose show ended after 28 seasons. Reruns of Springer’s show replaced “Robert Irvine” on The CW.
4. The upcoming November election. Those on the business side of the media industry are quite nervous as many Republicans holding office are on the bubble with many constituents upset with President Trump’s policies. Case in point: Democrat Doug Jones’ stunning victory over Republican Roy Moore in deep-red Alabama’s senate race, thanks to a strong black voter turnout.
Democrats put a dent in the GOP monopoly by winning the House, which could put a kibosh on the local station ownership cap being raised.
5. Can the new WBMX keep up the momentum? The new Classic Hip-Hop/R&B station (known as 104.3 Jams) had strong sampling in its first ratings report, finishing fifth last month and plans to introduce a new talent lineup soon. Will this be a long-term success? Or a fast flameout like in Dallas, Houston, and Indianapolis? Unlike those markets however, Chicago’s declining African-American population could play a role in whether or not this station succeeds.
104.3 Jams’ ratings haven’t been consistent and the jury is still out on whether or not this format can succeed in Chicago. And the city’s declining African-American population hasn’t played a role in the station’s success, or lack thereof.
6. The FCC’s agenda. After killing net neutrality and throwing out most rules (i.e. cross-ownership), the agency is setting its sights on the television station ownership cap, currently at 39 percent. The cap could be raised – or even eliminated – which could spark a fight with Democrats in Congress.
Actually been a quiet year at the FCC, if you count the Sinclair debcale and a looming battle over children’s television rules.
7. The return of American Idol. With ratings for broadcast network television continuing to head south, the former Fox hit debuts on ABC March 11. Can it rekindle its ratings magic on another network?
American Idol was a decent performer for ABC, but not to the extent it was for Fox in its early seasons.
8. Will the negative spotlight stay on Chicago? With Mayor Rahm Emanuel now more or less the public face of the city (a position Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey once held) and President Trump continuing to slam Chicago over gun violence – not to mention the GOP and right-wingers continuing to use us to score political points with their base, Chicago’s hapless image as a dysfunctional place will unfortunately continue.
The good news: Chicago’s homicide and shooting rates continue to decline this year, and the city has not been the target of Trump much in 2018. The bad news? The city’s reputation continues to suffer on the global stage as the international media continues to focus on the city’s gun violence epidemic, as one particular violent August weekend attested. Oddly, The LaQuan McDonald trial last fall failed to attract much attention, even in Chicago as the Judge Kavanaugh hearings grabbed most of the headlines.
9. Can Chicago stop the population bleeding? Led by the exodus of African-Americans, the nation’s third-ranked media market lost population again last year and is something to watch. Only San Diego and Indianapolis had a bigger drop (among TV households) percentage-wise year-to-year.
It did not, but someone needs to question Nielsen’s tabulation of TV homes. In a state where nearly every municipality is losing population, how can Peoria-Bloomington gain nearly 12,000 homes out of nowhere?
10. Will declining NFL ratings affect the Super Bowl? With NFL ratings down considerably this year due to a number of factors, Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis could be one of the least-watched in ages.
The NFL’s ratings rebounded this year, thanks to stronger games and Fox’s acquisition of Thursday Night Football.
11. Chicago sports teams’ outlook. Can the Bears flourish under a new coach? Can the Cubs bounce back after losing in the NLCS? Are the other teams rebuilding efforts progressing well? These questions aren’t going to be easy to answer.
Under new head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears won the NFC North for the first time since 2010 and are headed to the playoffs. As for the others, the Cubs didn’t make it past the Wild-Card round and the less said about the other three pro teams, the better.
12. What cable network will shutter next? Due to the rising cost of cable and cord-cutting, cable networks with minimal audiences are in danger of shutting down. Those on the bubble include MTV Classic, Logo, and WGN America, who could get a new name and look under new owner Sinclair.
Despite cord-cutting and the proliferation of streaming, no cable networks closed in 2018 – consider this a Christmas miracle. But others, such as TVLand cut back or eliminated their original programming output.