The Media Notepad: Sun-Times, WBEZ complete merger

Also: Televisa and Univision become one; Weigel launches another diginet ; The last tie to Marvel at Netflix severs

Been away for awhile, so let’s catch up on some items of note making news:

The non-profit merger between the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ officially closed on January 31, with $61 million in philanthropic backing, raised by WBEZ parent Chicago Public Media.

“The response from the philanthropic community has been tremendous, and we are deeply indebted to this community of donors leading the way to invest in and protect journalism in Chicago,” said Chicago Public Media CEO Matt Moog in a press release.

Announced four months ago, the deal makes the Sun-Times officially a non-profit, after years and years of losing money under various owners as most newspapers continue to bleed red ink. Moreover, the pandemic has made matters even worse.

This marks the first  merger deal between a radio station and a newspaper since the FCC relaxed the cross-ownership rules in 2017, which were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. But given this was a non-profit transaction, FCC approval wasn’t needed.

On the for-profit side of things, Mexican broadcast giant Televisa and U.S. based Spanish-language network Univision finalized their $4.8 billion merger a few weeks ago, making them the world’s largest curator of Spanish-language content – and as expected, announced a new streaming service named Vix. Announced last April, the Televisa-Univision combo is meant to compete with other media companies in an increasingly global marketplace as streaming is on its way to becoming the dominant way of watching television.

Univision CEO Wade Davis takes the same position in the newly combined TelevisaUnivision as the company’s news operations in Mexico is being spun-off to a new independent company. Univision’s local TV and radio stations are a part of the new TelevisaUnivision, including two TV and five radio stations in Chicago. Televisa’s cross-border stations include Tijuana’s XEWT and former English-language station XETV, whose signals cross the border into San Diego.

But the jewel centerpiece of TelevisaUnivision is Vix, which will feature more than 40,000 hours of content evolving around entertainment, news, and sports (especially soccer.) Unlike other streaming services such as Paramount Plus, Disney Plus, and Peacock, Vix is setup similar to Samsung Plus TV and Pluto TV, with over 100 dedicated channels of content.

Two tiers are being offered: Vix, which is free with advertising, and Vix Plus, a premium subscription tier featuring tons of original content including programs from Salma Hayek’s production company, exclusive movie premieres, and more than 3,000 hours of live soccer a year with comprehensive World Cup coverage for Mexican viewers including ten exclusive games for Vix Plus subscribers. And yes, there’s reboots too: a new version of late 1980s horror series La Hora Marcada (think Tales From The Darkside, Friday The 13th: The Series, etc. – similar fare you saw at the same time in the States.)

To see a list of programs airing on Vix and Vix Plus – and there are a lot of them, click here.

Here comes yet another new digital subchannel, or diginet: Weigel Broadcasting announced last week the launch of Story Television. But unlike Weigel’s stable of channels featuring classic movies, dramas, and comedies, Story features documentary and factual programming previously run on the History Channel and A&E networks. Among the shows you can expect to see include Modern Marvels, The Men Who Built America, and A&E’s signature program, Biography. The new channel launches March 28, with a checkerboarded programming format – i.e. a programming day dedicated to a single theme, similar to what sister diginet Decades did was when it initially launched.

“At Weigel, we are always looking for opportunities to offer audiences access to free, quality programming options they can enjoy on any television set,” said Donna D’Alessandro, EVP of network content for Weigel. “As our newest portfolio addition, Story Television will further diversify and expand Weigel’s broadcast reach by serving those viewers in search of factually-based historical programs that will deep dive into fascinating events, people, cultural moments and more.”

The new digital channel is being made available to Weigel stations and to those owned by Hearst Broadcasting, whose parent company also has a 50 percent stake in A&E Networks, with the other half owned by Disney. Weigel owns stations in Chicago and Milwaukee; Hearst owns ABC affiliate WISN in the latter city. Other stations groups signing on are Maranatha Broadcasting and Marquee Broadcasting (not related to Marquee, the Chicago Cubs’ regional sports network owned jointly by the team and Sinclair Broadcasting. ) No terrestrial channel positions have been determined yet.

This is the sixth digital subchannel Weigel has launched – in addition to Story and Decades, the others are MeTV, Movies!, Heroes & Icons, and Start TV.

(Geek Exchange)

If you enjoy the Marvel drama programming on Netflix, then you better get binging: Six series on The Worldwide Leader In Streaming Entertainment will be departing the service on March 1, or a week from now as rights revert back to Disney, Marvel’s parent company.

The Marvel-Netflix deal was announced in 2013 with the 2015 premiere of Daredevil and became one of the first hits in the streaming era. Then came Jessica Jones and spin-off Luke Cage, which were also hits and were critically praised, at least their respective freshman seasons. Other series also followed: Iron Fist, The Punisher, and The Defenders, which featured cast members from said series (excluding Punisher.)

After Disney decided to launch its own streaming service, the relationship between them and Netflix soured almost immediately and the streamer started cancelling their programs in 2018 and 2019. The cancellations forced the closure of Marvel Television and the ouster of head Jeph Loeb.

With Disney owning rights to reruns of the six series, they could wind up on Disney Plus but so far no announcement has been made, meaning they’ll be off streaming indefinitely. Since the relationship ended, newer Marvel streaming shows have aired exclusively on Disney Plus including Wandavision, Loki, and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier. However, these series are closer to the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe than the Marvel material on Netflix, as it features a lot of R-rated material not suitable for a family-friendly service such as Disney Plus. A more realistic scenario would be the six soon-to-be former Netflix Marvel shows to wind up on Disney Plus’ sister streaming service Hulu.


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