NewsNation expands as WGN America sunsets

Nexstar shifts focus from entertainment programming to news 

In a long-awaited move, Nexstar announced on Monday they were expanding NewsNation into other dayparts, including prime access and early fringe.

Beginning March 1, WGN America is adding two more hours of news: a 5 p.m. newshour anchored by Nicole Berlie, who previously anchored weekends, and Joe Donlan gets a solo spot in the 6 p.m. hour, leading in to the two-hour NewsNation prime-time newscasts. All times are Central. 

Titled The Donlan Report, the former WGN-TV news personality anchors a news and interview shows with notable newsmakers. The new hour goes head-to-head with CNBC’s The News With Shepard Smith, who debuted 30 days after NewsNation did and has a similar format. Donlon Report also is going head-to-head with the newly-launched Fox News Primetime which is basically an opinion show; and Joy Reid’s The Reid Out on MSNBC. 

Also on March 1, a previously-announced new interview show with Ashleigh Banfield debuts at 9 p.m.

But that’s not all – in order to show commitment to their pet project, Nexstar is also “rebranding” the channel to NewsNation, dropping the WGN name after 43 years.

“Rebranding WGN America as NewsNation underscores the network’s clearly defined mission of delivering fact-based and unbiased news, while making it easier for viewers to find this new informative source for news,” said Nexstar exec Sean Compton in a news release.

Ratings have been dismal for NewsNation, averaging a little north of 60,000 viewers so far this calendar year. NewsNation was on the air for breaking news events in recent weeks, covering the live Capitol insurrection on January 6 and the inauguration of President Joe Biden last week.  Nexstar has also focused on striking distribution deals in recent weeks with carriers to expand NewsNation’s footprint. 

Indeed, finding an identity for WGN America has been a challenge. Carrying the local signal of WGN-TV nationwide, it was known for Cubs baseball, local Chicago newscasts, syndicated programming, and Bozo. But the FCC’s new syndicated exclusivity rules (or “syndex” for short) in 1990 took out much of its contemporary entertainment programming and then ran into trouble with Major League Baseball and the NBA over carrying Cubs, White Six, and Bulls contests as all local sports vanished in 2014, though for unrelated reasons. The channel was re-branded as WGN America in 2008 and converted into a basic cable network in 2014. Around this time, WGN was investing in more scripted and reality programming, but all vanished from the channel by 2018. 

The rebrand to NewsNation comes as cable networks are facing their futures as a changing cable ecosystem is occurring amid a sea of cord-cutting as consumers pivoting to streamers. On Friday, NBCUniversal announced it was closing sports network NBCSN, migrating the few events it has to sibling USA Network and streaming service Peacock. 

Even though WGN America is becoming NewsNation, the cable network still plans to run entertainment programming in other dayparts for the time being, making the name change illogical. But it’s clear what direction Nexstar is going in with the now-former WGN America, as the off-network programming it airs – especially given the same shows can be found elsewhere, is no longer cutting it. 

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