ABC 7, WCIU part ways on prime-time newscast

In news first reported by Robert Feder a week ago (and mentioned here in passing), WCIU (The U) and ABC-owned WLS-TV (ABC 7) announced they were ending the 7 p.m. weeknight newscast produced for the Weigel-owned station August 30th.

Launched in 2015, the newscast was meant to attract viewers who were just arriving home from work and want an update of the news of the day. But ratings have been mediocre at best; it is easily ABC 7’s lowest-rated newscast on the air.

Anchored by Cheryl Burton and Hosea Sanders, the ABC 7 newscast was supposed to move to what is currently known as “The U Too” (WMEU-Ch.48/WCIU Ch. 26.2) because WCIU is becoming a CW affiliate airing programming in-pattern from 7 to 9 p.m. beginning September 1 and re-branding as “CW 26” with The U Too renaming as The U, WCIU’s current brand.

But a promo for the switchover posted on WCIU’s website two weeks ago did not include video from the ABC 7 news team, leading to speculation the 7 p.m. newscast would not appear on the digital subchannel.

Believe it or not, another possible reason why ABC 7 backed out of the arrangement may be because of the absence of a competing station from a satellite TV service. For the last two weeks, CBS-owned WBBM-TV (CBS 2) been absent from DirecTV due to a retransmission fee dispute between its parent company and DirecTV owner AT&T.

DirecTV is the only cable/satellite provider in the Chicago area not carrying “The U Too” and no deal has been struck to carry the channel. In addition to AT&T’s dispute with CBS, they also have a dispute with Nexstar, the future owners of WGN-Ch.9 as they are buying parent company Tribune. As a result of DirecTV’s blackout of CBS, the ratings for WBBM-TV plummeted 28 percent in total-day ratings and cost its 10 p.m. newscast a third of its audience from their already low levels.

With no resolution in sight to these disputes – and DirecTV refusing to carry “The U” in its new location, ABC 7 figured it wasn’t worth the expense to continue producing a newscast that wouldn’t be available to the thousands of DirecTV households in the Chicago area (including mine) after seeing CBS 2’s ratings.

While viewers can watch CBS 2 and The U Too on the Locast app embedded in DirecTV’s apps, the picture quality isn’t as good and is often choppy and you have to log in to activate each time you use it. On Thursday, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox sued Locast for unauthorized transmission of their signals over the internet in Chicago and twelve other markets, saying the operation is nothing but a front for Dish and DirecTV and noted AT&T’s $500,000 donation to the supposedly non-profit organization.

Despite the demise of the newscast, both ABC 7 and Weigel hope to work together on future projects.

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