Chicago Fire FC strikes deal with WGN, returns to broadcast TV

The Chicago Fire’s new logo, now knows as “Chicago Fire FC (football club)”.

MLS team brings live sporting events back to WGN.

It may not be one of the four major sporting leagues, but it’s good enough for WGN-TV.

The Nexstar-owned independent station announced Wednesday it has struck a deal with the Chicago Fire (now re-branded as Chicago Fire Football Club, or Chicago Fire FC)  to air 24 games locally beginning March 7 with a game against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., home of the NFL’s New England Patriots. Ten other games are scheduled for national television broadcasts, including ABC, ESPN, UniMas (WXFT), FS1, and Univision.

As part of the deal, WGN plans to air a monthly “all-access” show featuring the team and plans to air a special titled Chicago Fire FC: Homecoming. March 20 at 7 p.m. , a day before the Fire return to Soldier Field to play Atlanta on March 21.

The deal beings the Fire back to over-the-air television in Chicago; in the past, games were shown randomly over WPWR-TV and the former NBC Non-Stop Chicago digital subchannel (now known as Cozi TV.)

“WGN-TV has a rich history of broadcasting live sports and we look forward to continuing and building on that tradition with Chicago Fire FC,” said WGN-TV Vice President and General Manager Paul Rennie. “The Fire have found a new home at Soldier Field and now a new broadcast home at WGN-TV. We’re thrilled to bring the exciting action of Chicago Fire FC to our viewers and all of Chicago.”

“In this transformational year for our Club, we want to provide our fans with as many ways as possible to experience the Fire, both live at Soldier Field and on the broadcast,” said Fire Owner and Chairman Joe Mansueto. “We know WGN-TV’s powerful place on the City’s sports scene and we’re excited to be their new flagship sports property.”

A ceremony bringing the team back to Soldier Field.

The deal is great for both parties. For WGN, it fills a void after losing the rights to all four Chicago sports teams they carried for years – notably the Cubs, whose relationship with the team ended last September after 71 years as they moved to the Marquee Sports Network, effective this Saturday. The station has maintained a hand in the sports business by launching a nightly wrap-up show GN Sports at 10:30 p.m. last month.

For the Fire, the team gains an over-the-air outlet after their most recent deal saw the team banished to streamer ESPN Plus, restricting the reach of the team (ESPN Plus will continue to stream games this season.) The about-face is courtesy of new team owner Mansueto, as the Fire is moving back to Soldier Field for the 2020 season and beyond after 13 years at a money-losing stadium in south suburban Bridgeview. The Fire played in Soldier Field from 1998 to 2005, with the 2002 and part of the 2003 seasons being played in Naperville at Cardinal Stadium due to Soldier Field renovations.

The Fire is hoping to take the same approach the Blackhawks did over a decade ago when the team was looking to expand its fanbase after owner Bill Wirtz died. The team ended the home-blackout policy putting all games on TV and striking a deal with WGN to carry 20 games a season (The Blackhawks, along with former WGN tenants Bulls and White Sox, shifted all of their games to NBC Sports Chicago this season). The team decision to move back to Soldier Field is intended to make it easier for fans to attend Fire games, as the Bridgeview location was too remote for the team’s fan base.

In all, it’s a win-win for everyone involved – WGN gets back into the sports business, the Fire gets more exposure and promotion. Moreover, it’s a big boost for the game of soccer.

But the WGN telecasts will not feature longtime play-by-play voice Dan Kelly, who announced via Twitter he was not coming back this season. Kelly also handled play-by-play duties for the Blackhawks from 2005 to 2008.

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Marquee to launch talk show with Ryan Dempster

A flyer for a live show of “Off The Mound”.

But here’s the rub: it’s only going to air monthly

Hulu becomes latest operator to sign deal with Marquee

In an odd move, the Cubs’ new Marquee network is planning to launch a new talk show featuring former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster.

Speaking to reporters at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz. on Saturday, Dempster said his new show would not only feature baseball guests but from others professions as well.

“Typically, we’re going to run it like a late-night talk show,” Dempster said. “More of our guests will be sports related, baseball related, but we’re not going to just limit it to baseball. There will be celebrities, entertainers, musicians, comedians, actors … We’ll talk to them about their experiences, from Cubs baseball and Chicago, to basically anything.”

Titled Off The Mound With Ryan Dempster, a few live house shows were produced. In an infamous appearance with Cubs slugger Kris Bryant during the 2019’s Cubs’ convention, he called St. Louis – home of the rival Cardinals – “boring”, creating a firestorm in the nation’s 23rd-ranked television market (though area residents got the last laugh when the Blues won the Stanley Cup last spring.)

Described as “MLB Tonight meets Late Night” on the show’s official website, On The Mound appeared at Sloan a year ago at the Innings Festival and featured Roger Clemens, Jim Thome, and a surprise by Pearl Jam frontman and longtime Cubs fan Eddie Vedder.

The next Off The Mound takes place in Boston April 3 with special guests Pedro Martinez, Bronson Arroyo, and Yes Dear’s Mike O’ Malley (Dempster also pitched for the Red Sox.)

Details are scant on where the show would be taped in Chicago, but one thing is clear: in an unusual move, the show plans to air new episodes on a monthly basis instead of being a strip or a weekly. But this is attuned to his busy schedule; Dempster serves as a assistant to Theo Epstein and also an analyst for MLB Network. Dempster also plans to be an analyst for a few Cubs games on the network.

Chicago has been a successful base for several daytime talkers (Oprah Winfrey, Steve Harvey, Windy City Live, etc.) but not-so-much in late-night as two efforts came and went quickly with Jonathan Brandmeier’s Johnny B. On The Loose in 1991 and 2012’s Seven On Ridge with Michael Essany each lasting all of three months – the latter airing on signal-deficient religious station WJYS and taped in Gary, Ind.

Marquee debuts on Saturday with an exhibition spring training game between the Cubs and Oakland A’s. So far, Marquee has struck deals with RCN and AT&T (DirecTV and U-Verse) and several smaller cable companies but so far no deals with Comcast/Xfinity, Dish, or WOW (Wide Open West.)  Marquee is a partnership between the Chicago Cubs and Sinclair Broadcasting.

On Monday, Marquee announced it signed a deal with Hulu’s Live TV service , the largest OTT streamer to strike a deal with the new channel thus far.

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The Media Notepad: Chicago Journalism: The future and you, Part 2

For awhile, Chicago-based Tribune Publishing was known as “Tronc”, a much-maligned name for a media company.

Also: Two TV-related sites shut down; XFL off to good start

With all the threats to our freedom of the press – from hedge fund operators buying financial stakes in newspaper companies to President Trump, now is the right time to discuss what it means to the future of journalism.

On February 23, numerous journalists and reporters are gathering at the Walnut Room of the Allegro Hotel in downtown Chicago to discuss the future of journalism at the second Chicago Journalism Town Hall. The first one took place in February 2009, organized by Ken Davis and Linda Paul.

Among the panelists assembled for the second go-around of this gathering include Bruce Dold from the Chicago Tribune; Carol Marin from NBC 5 and WTTW;  Crain’s Jim Kirk; and Daily Herald media critic Robert Feder, whose blog broke this story on January 29; and more (a full list of participants can be found here.) Both Marin and Feder participated in the first Town Hall in 2009.

For those who won’t be able to attend, the Town Hall will be airing live on CAN TV (channel 27 on most cable systems.) For those without cable or subscribe to satellite TV, the gathering will be available on-demand at cantv.org.

While local television had been adding news in the past year (although ABC 7 canceled its newscast on WCIU due to the Weigel-owned broadcaster joining The CW), Chicago has seen The Chicago Defender go online only; the bankruptcy of Johnson Publishing; and the shuttering of CLTV and WXRT’s newsroom. In addition, print is continue to struggle as the Tribune and Sun-Times continue to lose revenue to big tech as both papers are having problems reinventing themselves.

Among the issues discussed at the last Town Hall included the financial difficulty newspapers were experiencing  (the late John Callaway declared them “dead”), the growing costs of running a newsroom, and a lack of internet access in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods – all still issues today.

It’ll be interesting to see what will be discussed this time around as the journalism world has changed considerably since the last gathering.


Back in 2001, the XFL made a splashy debut with a prime-time game on NBC and Vince McMahon coming out to the crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas and announcing “This Is The XFL!”

Nineteen years after it folded, the XFL returned on Saturday – but the return was much quieter and low-key than its first premiere.

The league struck deals with ABC/ESPN and Fox, ensuring all four games in the eight-team league would be on national television and so far, so good. The first game Saturday on ABC between Seattle and D.C. (Washington) produce strong ratings, drawing an average of 3.3 million viewers – more than the Duke-North Carolina college basketball game on ESPN (2.67 million.) and an NBA game on ABC between the Lakers and Warriors (2.88 million.) The game peaked at an impressive 4 million viewers from 3:45 p.m-4 p.m. Central Time.

Seattle’s KOMO had the best overnight household rating for the Saturday afternoon game at 6.4; Washington’s WJLA was fifth at 4.0. Both are owned by Sinclair Broadcasting.

Even more impressive, the St.Louis-Dallas game on ESPN Sunday afternoon drew a strong 7.4 Nielsen household rating according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, even outdrawing a Blues game on Fox Sports Midwest on Saturday (4.8). The other XFL games were also strong draws in St. Louis, who saw its NFL team move back to Los Angeles in 2016 after 21 years (the now-Arizona Cardinals also played in St. Louis from 1960-87, after moving from Chicago.)

Nationally, the XFL drew decent ratings with the four games averaging 3.12 million viewers and a 1.0 rating among adults 18-49. The demo rating is better than many prime-time shows, especially everything on The CW. Fox’s Sunday afternoon matchup was the high-water mark, drawing 3.39 million viewers. Advertisers have been responsive too, with Progressive, Geico, Anheuser-Busch, and Comcast all buying time on broadcasts.

Even though Chicago doesn’t have a team (the original XFL did have the Chicago Enforcers, who played in Soldier Field), the league did provide chatter on several local sports shows including NBC Sports Chicago’s Sports Talk Live and WGN-TV’s GN Sports, and a few game highlights were shown during the newscasts of WBBM-TV and WGN-TV. However, look for the XFL to ease into the background as spring training begins and March Madness descends upon us as Chicago is the largest media market without an XFL team.


The number of TV news websites are now down by two with the closure of TV By The Numbers and TV Week.

TV by The Numbers ceased publication on January 31 as Nexstar acquired Tribune Media, who owned the site. TVBTN was very useful to us media bloggers as it provided useful information on television ratings, especially on cable and in certain demos (as did Media Life, another now-defunct publication.) Also, former NBC and Fox executive Preston Beckman (known as the Masked Scheduler) told the story of his career at both networks in the “History Of Must-See TV” in thirty parts (which you can still access here for the time being.)

As for TV Week, I already bid adieu to the publication when the print edition ended in 2009 and told you what an impact the magazine had on me and my site. In recent years under Chuck Ross’ stewardship, the site hasn’t had much original content (just links to other TV sites) and when there was original content, he would often write about items I couldn’t care less about, such as his love of the Dodgers and his childhood in Los Angeles – very oft-putting for a publication founded in Chicago as Electronic Media.

In 2003, TV Week left for L.A. as Crain’s sold it to Ross several years later.

One thing I do agree with Ross on is it the original Electronic Media should be resurrected by a journalism school so it would train the next generation of students on reporting about the media business and no one did it better.

In addition to the above, recent years have seen the closure of several media-related sites for one reason or another. Now-defunct sites include Chicagoland Radio & Media, Radio-Info, Television Without Pity, and Target Market News (though the website claims it is returning later this year.)

Further reading:

Hostless Oscars earns lowest-rating on record for ABC

John Records Landecker heads to the NAB Hall Of Fame

Bill and Wendy and Cumulus’ WLS-AM hook up for podcast

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Super Bowl Ratings: Numbers up for exciting game

Credit: (Jose Carlos Fajardo/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

Different matchup sends viewership up

A more competitive game and two new teams whose quarterbacks are fresh faces helped drive ratings growth for Super Bowl LIV, played at Miami Gardens’ Hard Rock Stadium and broadcast on Fox.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ 31-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers drew 99.91 million viewers, up from the 98.2 million viewers earned from last year’s Super Bowl LIII featuring a low-scoring contest between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, the lowest viewer count in a decade. However, Super Bowl LIV fell short of the 103.4 million viewers earned by Super Bowl LII two years ago on NBC when the Patriots were beaten by the Philadelphia Eagles. Numbers peaked at 103.5 million viewers in the 8:45-9 p.m. CT window.

On the Programming Insider website, I predicted the game would draw 97.2 viewers – some 2.7 million off.

The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes led a comeback victory over the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo, giving the team their first Super Bowl victory in five decades, the last one in 1970 in Super Bowl IV over the Minnesota Vikings.

In terms of ratings, the game drew a 41.6 household rating and a 69 household share.

In Canada airing on CTV, TSN, and RDS (a French-language sports net in Quebec), Super Bowl LIV drew a record 9.5 million viewers across all three channels.

Among the local markets whose teams were involved in the game, the Chiefs Super Bowl victory drew a 55.7/89 in Kansas City, the highest rated program in the market since the Royals’ World Series championship in 2015, earning a 60 rating with both airing on Nexstar-owned Fox affiliate WDAF. The market peaked with a 62.6/97 in the final quarter-hour of the game.

In San Francisco, Fox-owned KTVU earned a 48.6/83, but ranked outside of the top ten. Kansas City led all the metered markets followed by Milwaukee, Nashville, Denver, and Boston (Chicago numbers were not available, nor for host market Miami-Ft. Lauderdale.) What’s notable here is, the Game 7 matchup between the San Francisco Giants and Royals drew a higher rating in San Francisco than this year’s Super Bowl (58.3). A resident of San Francisco until 2014, the 49ers played an hour’s drive south in Santa Clarita, Calif., which is actually closer to San Jose where the NHL’s Sharks play.

Among adults 18-49, Super Bowl LIV drew a 29.9 rating and 38.7 million viewers, down from the 31 rating from Super Bowl LIII, scoring the lowest numbers in the demo since 1992 (the same was said with the numbers last year.) The game earned a 34.2 rating in the key 25-54 demo, down slightly from Super Bowl LIII.

The halftime performance featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira drew an eye-popping 103.2 million viewers. In Canada, the numbers peaked at 12.1 million viewers.

As far as streaming is concerned, Super Bowl LIV drew a total of 3.4 million viewers, up 30 percent from last year, and drew a total of 757,000 viewers for Spanish-language net Fox Deportes. Add all the numbers up, and the Super Bowl drew a grand total of 103.1 million viewers.

In all, Fox earned a whopping $600 million in revenue from the Super Bowl, the largest amount in a single day in the network’s 33-year history.

The Super Bowl lead-out this year was a new season Fox’s The Masked Singer and drew 23.7 million viewers and a 8.1 rating in the adult 18-49 demo, up seven percent in viewers and 16 percent in demo from CBS reality competition series World’s Best, but down from the 27.9 million viewers and 9.3 demo rating from 2018’s lead-out This Is Us.

Sports Media Watch and Twitter contributed to this report. Updated at 10:38 p.m. to add Canadian ratings information.

 

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2020 Super Bowl Commercial Review: Deja Vu

Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day spot is the best of the best ; Halftime Show featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira a smash hit

Even though several cultural critics thought otherwise, this year’s batch of Super Bowl Commercials were actually better than last year’s. Yes, really.

The fourteenth edition of T Dog Media’s Super Bowl Commercial Review features a lot of dancing, rappers destroying convenience stores, and numerous celebrities driving around in cars for no reason. The top ad in this year’s “Best” category was the much-hyped Groundhog Day spot for Jeep featuring Bill Murray, reprising his role from the 1993 movie of the same name about a man who wakes up and relives the same day over and over again. The ad also topped USA Today’s annual Ad Meter.

Even more special, the radio voice saying “It’s Groundhog Day” in the spot – which comes on with Murray hits the alarm clock – is none other than Steve Dahl.

This year, we’ve restored the top ten list for both Best and Worst categories. Promos, political ads, and movie trailers do not count. Some of the videos on this page could soon become unavailable, so you may see those annoying gray boxes if you come across this article in the future.

Best

1. Jeep, Groundhog Day. The best one of the bunch.

2. Doritos, The Cool Ranch. Sam Elliott and Lil Nas X duel to see who has the best dance moves featuring the latter’s ultra-cool hit song.

3. NFL, Next 100. This spot lasted 2:51, but this spot was awesome in every way possible, particularly at the end (and despite an odd scene where there were Bears fans in New York City.)

4. Hard Rock, The Hype. Someone stole Jennifer Lopez’s Bling Cup! JLo finds the perpetrator (DJ Khaled) as he would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for that meddling JLo.

5. Discover, No We Don’t Charge Annual Fees/Yes, We’re Accepted (click on links to watch ads) Both of these commercials featured clips of numerous TV shows and movies, leading this person to wonder if they were launching a streaming service. Oh well, one can dream.

6. Weather Tech, Lucky Dog. A touching spot from Bolingbrook’s Weather Tech on how Scott The Dog survived cancer and how research at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine is saving animals’ lives.

7. Mountain Dew, As Good As The Original. Here’s Mountain Dew Zero! With Bryan Cranston and Tracee Ellis Ross in a funny spot, even though the drink tastes blah.

8. Snickers, Snickers Fix The World. There was reportedly another spot about throwing a bunch of politicians in that hole. That would certainly work in Chicago.

9. Avocados From Mexico, The Avocados From Mexico Shopping Network.

You too can buy Avocados-related merchandise on the Avocados From Mexico Shopping Network and as a bonus, they’ll throw in Molly Ringwald! Offer not available anywhere.

 

10. Genesis, Going Away. Chrissy Teigen and John legend say goodbye to a bunch of people while getting away in a Genesis SUV. Or something like that.

Worst

Even though the ads were better this year, it doesn’t mean there weren’t any stinkers in the bunch. And boy, there were some spots that were flat out bad (click on the link to watch)

1. Bud Light Seltzer, Inside Post’s Brain. Let’s see…what’s in Post Malone’s brain… a no-talent rapper with a low IQ promoting a nasty-tasting drink. Damn, that was Geico Easy.

2. Michelob Ultra, Jimmy Works. Would’ve been much funnier if Jimmy Kimmel were in the ad instead of Jimmy Fallon.

3. Audi, Let It Go. A Game of Thrones star singing an overrated Disney song driving an Audi. This ad needs to go.

4. Coca-Cola Energy, Show Up. Martin Scorsese parties while Jonah Hill falls asleep on the couch and the world is wondering if he’ll show up to the party. And yes, Coca-Cola Energy tastes awful as advertised.

5. Hulu, Tom Brady’s Big Announcement. His big announcement is him being a Hulu subscriber because he can watch himself in his Family Guy guest-starring role over and over again.

6. Sabra, How we Muss. Interesting put about this commercial is Chester Cheetah showing up in this ad and not appearing in the ad for his own product.

7. Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold, 6-for-6 Pack. I don’t understand this commercial. So by buying a six-pack of beer, we’re helping the world’s organic farmers? I’m so confused.

8. Pop Tarts, Fixed The Pretzel. Pretzel Pop-Tarts are perhaps the least appealing idea in ages.

9. Squarespace, Winona in Winona. Is that really Winona Ryder in this spot? I hope not.

10. P&G, When The World Comes Together…. you don’t need SEIU to clean up a mess.

Though technically not included in these rankings, two political ads – one featuring Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg and the other featuring President Trump – predictably ranked 60th and 62nd (dead last) respectively in USA Today’s Ad Meter. The reason why these ads weren’t included because the two spots would easily be picked as the worst and let’s face it – most people hate political advertising.

Halftime Show

This year’s halftime show featured Jennifer Lopez and Shakira and what a halftime show it was! The show featured a lot of musical influences and dances from Latin America (Shakira is from Colombia, after all) and even though it did feature some risque performances, it was well choreographed and quite awesome to watch and much better than the last two halftime shows featuring Justin Timberlake and Maroon 5, respectively.

Reviews were generally favorable – even from Tribune critic Greg Kot, who deservedly trashed last year’s show. Of course, there were despite some grumblings from the “OK Boomer” crowd (and some younger than I am) and not surprisingly, drew comparisons to Nipplegate sixteen years ago. But I don’t think they really understood the musical culture Lopez and Shakira put on display, and all they saw was “softcore porn”. That’s America for you – full of musical ignorance, as always.

While Lopez and Shakira put on an awesome show, it still didn’t top Prince’s performance during Super Bowl XLII, considered one of the best of all time.

Grade: A-. Well done!

Further reading/listening

NPR’s Eric Deggans has his annual review and you can read it here.

Ad Age also has reviews of the ads, and you can read them here.

Adweek has the ten best Super Bowl ads.

This is the fourteenth straight year T Dog Media has reviewed Super Bowl Ads (time flies!) For past reviews dating back to 2007, click here. Keep in mind older videos posted in those reviews may no longer be available.

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Legendary network executive Fred Silverman dies

Career spanned ABC, CBS, NBC plus his own production company

Media watchers are mourning the death of Fred Silverman, an executive who re-invented CBS and took ABC to the top, and later formed his own production company.

Born in the Queens borough of New York, Silverman began his career right here in Chicago at WGN-TV in the early 1960s where he was a producer and writer and later shifted to New York’s WPIX (both WGN and WPIX at the time were owned by WGN Continental Broadcasting, the forerunner to Tribune Broadcasting.)

In 1963, Silverman jumped to CBS as president of daytime and children’s TV programming. One of the crown jewels of his tenure was green-lightning a Saturday morning animated series based on the Archie comic books series in 1968 and became a big smash. Later, he was credited for helping create another iconic Saturday morning cartoon show, suggesting Hanna-Barbera name the show and the its central character inspired by the chorus in the Frank Sinatra song Strangers In The Night (do-be-doo-be-doo.) Thus, Scooby-Doo was born and became a monster hit whose popularity still reigns today.

Silverman was promoted to CBS vice-president of programming in 1970 and helped transition a prime-time schedule from rural and family comedies to more urban-set sitcoms to draw more advertising revenue. One program (All in the Family) changed the face of comedy forever tackling issues then taboo on television.

In 1975, Silverman shifted to ABC as network entertainment president and hit more home runs, pioneering the mini-series (Rich Man Poor Man and the revolutionary Roots) and hits such as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, and Charlie’s Angels. Thanks to Silverman, ABC rose to the top of the ratings heap in a historic feat by 1977.

In order to lift their faltering network in the ratings, NBC hired Silverman away from ABC in 1978 as CEO and despite his stellar track record, was unable to turn the network around. During his tenure, NBC lost even more ground in the ratings, lost affiliates to rival ABC, and green-lighted many forgettable programs (Supertrain, Pink Lady and Jeff, Hello Larry, etc.) To top it all off, NBC lost millions on the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow after the U.S. pulled out of the games to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier.

And worse for Silverman, he was mocked widely for the way he ran the network. The ad agency behind the “Proud As A Peacock” branding made a parody video and was roasted on Saturday Night Live by comedian Al Franken, referring to him in “Limo-For-A-Lame-o” skit on Weekend Update (believe it or not, there is a whole Wikipedia article on the subject.) Of note is SNL had its own problems at the time, losing ground to upstart rival Fridays on Silverman’s former network ABC.

Despite all the problems, Silverman did find some hits at NBC – notably Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts Of Life, Real People, and Gimme A Break and signed a young comic named David Letterman to host an off-beat daytime show. But by 1981, NBC officials had enough and replaced Silverman with Grant Tinker.

Silverman formed his own production company and convinced MGM/UA to launch a syndicated late night talk show featuring comedian Alan Thicke called Thicke Of The Night with Metromedia and their large-market station group (five of those are now owned by Fox, including Chicago’s WFLD.) Premiering in September 1983, Thicke was not able to overcome bad reviews and was canceled in July 1984 due to low ratings.

In 1985, Silverman teamed up with Dean Hargrove and Viacom to form a production company to produce several successful network television movies and dramas including Matlock, Jake And The Fatman, Diagnosis Murder and Father Dowling Mysteries (another series, In The Heat of The Night, was produced independently by Silverman and MGM/UA.) Their production company also produced a smash hit TV movie featuring Raymond Burr reprising his iconic role as Perry Mason for NBC and led to over a dozen more. As of this writing, his production company was still active.

In an interview with TVNewsCheck in 2014, Silverman gave praise to local broadcasting – especially Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting’s MeTV and Neal Sabin in particular. In the same interview, Silverman lamented how “safe” television had become. “It’s just political incorrectness,” he told Harry Jessell. “You couldn’t put All In The Family on today. I doubt whether you could put M*A*S*H on the air because there are too many different pressure groups. There are too many different people saying you can’t do this or you can’t do that. It’s just not possible.”

Silverman was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 1999. He is survived by wife Catherine Ann Kihn and two children.

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Sony: No second season for “Mel Robbins”

Cancellation comes as a bit of a surprise as self-help guru could not catch up to Clarkson, Hall in freshman talk show race

In a surprise move, it’s over and out for The Mel Robbins Show after Sony Pictures Television announced it isn’t bringing back the series for a second season.

This comes as Sony – who was considering renewing the show as late as two weeks ago –  received a key upgrade in Los Angeles, moving into an afternoon slot from overnights. The series plans to stay in production until May, with the last episode airing September 11.

As first reported by Broadcasting & Cable, the syndicator pulled the plug on the freshman daytime talker, hosted by the actress-turned- author and self-help motivator as the series’ season-to-average ratings were far behind two other syndicated talk shows that debuted this season: NBCUniversal’s Kelly Clarkson (averaging 1.7 million viewers per day) and Disney/ABC’s Tamron Hall (with 1.2 million viewers) as Robbins was a distant third, averaging 466,000 viewers per day.  Robbins debuted a week later (September 16) than the other two.

In Chicago, the program aired weekdays at 1 p.m. over Nexstar-owned WGN-TV, but was stomped in the ratings by WLS-TV’s Windy City Live, who also topped Clarkson and Hall and is the city’s most-watched talk show. Robbins also failed to draw more viewers than the programming it replaced – in this case, NBCUniversal’s long-running Maury, who slid to 2 p.m.

“Mel has had a positive impact on millions of daytime viewers and we still strongly believe in her message and the work she is doing,” Sony said in a statement. “We are proud of the show and the talented team and thank our partners and launch group at Nexstar, and our advertisers and sponsors, for their exceptional support.”

Robbins‘ original launch group was Tribune Media, as it was the last deal made by the company before Nexstar closed on its purchase of the Chicago-based station group. Indeed, Robbins non-confrontational style didn’t exactly gel in a lineup with conflict talkers Maury and Steve Wilkos, and on CW affiliates reruns of Jerry Springer.

Robbins’ early cancellation is a bit jarring given in recent years, syndicators have given freshman shows time to find their footing, even getting pick ups for second seasons despite low ratings. The last time a freshman talk show suffered an early demise was Disney/ABC’s troubled FABLife from four seasons ago, canceled four months into its run and saw co-host, creator, and executive producer Tyra Banks exit after just two months.

With Robbins gone, the news may be a blessing for a new talk show Sony is planning with Daphne Oz called The Good Dish. The proposed cooking/talk hybrid could stand to benefit if Sony can swing a deal with stations currently airing Robbins, but so far no deals had been announced. Also vying for spots are CBS’ Drew Barrymore (who received a firm production commitment) and Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon.

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The Media Notepad: ABC launches Localish as a diginet

Also: Drew Barrymore’s new show gets a production commitment; trouble ahead for WTMX.

It’s hard to believe, but the LiveWell Network is actually still around – and more than likely, you probably didn’t know it still existed.

Well, it’s finally going away.

Beginning on February 17, what’s left of LiveWell is being replaced by ABC Local-ish, which is basically short-term programming found on ABC’s eight owned-and-operated stations’ websites including WLS-TV in Chicago and on localish.com. Now it’s going to be a diginet network with longer-form stories and programs.

“We first launched Localish as a reflection of our deep commitment to the communities we serve.” said ABC Owned Television Stations President Wendy McMahon in a press release. “The resonance of Localish’s storytelling has enabled us to forge connections with a new generation of viewers. We’re excited to start this next chapter of the brand and give our viewers even more ways to live like a local.”

Localish plans to launch ten shows at start, including All Good, Bite Size, Worth The Wait and Pumped among others (a full list of the programs and their descriptions can be found on WABC-TV’s website.)

Launched in 2018, Localish produced more than 700 hours of digital content attracting more than 240 million views, drawing material produced by those eight ABC-owned stations. One well-viewed story included a Chicago woman who started a non-profit hair salon in the art of African-American hairstyling to help educate transracially adoptive parents. And Localish has won awards, too: it nabbed the 2019 Innovator Award from TVNewsCheck.

In addition to Chicago, expect to see a lot of material from New York; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area; Houston; Raleigh-Durham; and Fresno – markets where ABC owns stations.

As for LiveWell, the lifestyle diginet actually discontinued nationwide distribution in 2015 but remained on the digital subchannels of ABC-owned stations. Since then, the 7.2 channel has been used for reruns of LiveWell shows, reruns of Chicago Cubs games, the now-defunct Pickler & Ben, and live political debates. LiveWell originally launched in 2009 as LiveWell HD featuring programming produced by the ABC station group and aired in high-definition on the group’s digital subchannels, but it wasn’t successful. Live Well was the brainchild of former WLS-TV GM Emily Barr, who was later named President of the channel but left ABC in 2012 to take a position at Graham Holdings.

Localish has no connection to ABC’s black-ish or mixed-ish, as both sitcoms have a hyphen in the middle where as Localish does not. There are no plans as of this moment to offer Localish outside of the ABC-owned stations.


Even though it’s a Holiday ratings book (equivalent to a July ratings book in TV), there are some troubling trends for a least one local station: The Mix (WTMX), the Hubbard-owned Hot AC station who appears to be in freefall. The Mix topped the market not too long ago and according to numbers released this past week, ranked seventh among all Chicago radio stations while the formerly top-rated Eric In The Morning now sits in eighth place.

It is hard to pinpoint why The Mix is suddenly struggling – maybe it’s the music selection given it is now closer to Top 40 B96 (WBBM-FM) and Kiss 103.5 (WKSC) – or the effects of Kathy Hart leaving the morning show a while back are now finally being felt, or maybe they’re losing audience to sister station WSHE-FM as their syndicated morning show Brooke and Jubal is now closing in on Eric and Co. as they were ranked tenth.

Even more head-scratching, Hubbard recently launched a television ad campaign for WSHE – and not for The Mix. In fact, Hubbard launched one for The Drive two years ago.

We won’t get a full handle of how trends are until the January numbers come in, when regular listening patterns resume. Is it a bloop because of WLIT’s dominance with Christmas music? Or something more? We’ll find out soon.


It’s official: Drew Barrymore’s talk show received a firm go on the first day of the recently-concluded NATPE convention. According to CBS Television Distribution, the series is cleared in 85 percent of the country with the CBS-owned stations on board with Sinclair, Nexstar, Weigel and other station groups.

With a CBS-owned station deal, it is likely CBS 2 (WBBM-TV) will carry the show locally in Chicago, but a time slot has yet to be determined. Barrymore could land at 2 p.m., opposite The Kelly Clarkson Show on NBC 5 (WMAQ), replacing Hot Bench.

So far, no information was available on station clearances on Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon or Sony Pictures The Good Dish, but it is still early.

In other syndication news, Entertainment Studios has renewed its entire slate of courtroom shows for next season, while giving game show Funny You Should Ask a two-year renewal, extending the Jon Kelly-hosted show through 2023. The show airs weeknights at 11 p.m. on CW26 (WCIU).

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Update: The tough marketplace for weekend programming continues

“Central Ave.” is a new weekly syndicated show being offered this fall in order to make stations’ lineups less boring.

But one syndicator is making an actual investment

Back last July, this blog detailed how tough it is to launch a weekly show as the weekend landscape outside of sports programming has become dominated by reruns, paid religion, infomercials, and fourth-rate programming. The tough marketplace led to the demise of WGN’s Man Of The People with WGN morning sports anchor Pat Tomasulo, lasted a little over a year in weekend late-night.

A week ago, TVNewscheck weighed in on the situation, and painted an even more dire situation than this blog did.

The article provided an insight on how the weekend programming business has been zapped over the years, hitting on the same points this blog did: lack of available time periods, sports pre-emptions, viewers flocking to streaming services, and a lack of will on syndicators’ part to produce anything worth watching. But it hit on some new points,too: continued expansion of news and sports programming (notably the XFL and UEFA soccer) and syndicators forcing station groups to take weekend runs of first-run and off-network programming airing on weekdays, taking away even more time periods.

Since the T Dog Media article was written, there has been more developments on the weekend programming front: WGN has made a major news expansion push, adding newscasts at 10 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday plus a Sunday morning political show; ABC adding another hour of GMA Saturday; and a reduction of E/I fare by an hour by a few local stations.

WGN’s “Man Of The People” debuted as a weekly offering in 2018 but was canceled after 17 months, a victim of a tough weekend marketplace.

Plus, more programs have fallen by the wayside. In addition to WGN cancelling People, the station also axed S.E.E Chicago and Weekend Workbench; NBCUniversal dropped Sunday morning finance show On The Money at the end of last year; and long-running syndicated series LatinNation and American Latino were both canceled last August.

And there’s more sports coming into the marketplace: Last fall, ABC moved the start times of its prime-time football games to a little after 6:30 p.m. Chicago time, removing an hour of local programming for affiliates. And there’s the return of the XFL, who’ll gobble up even more time periods and without a Chicago franchise to boot. The second coming of Vince McMahon’s football league is airing both ABC and Fox, mainly on weekend afternoons.

And now we have four local stations running Joel Osteen every Sunday.

Some syndicators are actually making some investments in weekend programming: Debamr-Mercury announced Monday it is launching Central Ave. as two weekly half-hours for weekend play starting this fall with the Fox O&Os on board, including Fox 32 and My50 locally. Tested in November as a strip at 7:30 p.m. on WNYW New York, the multicultural magazine focuses on urban entertainment news. The hope is with the weekend runs, Central Ave. expands to a first-run daily strip in the future.

Entertainment Studios is offering two off-Weather Channel hour-long series: Storm of Suspicion and Weather Gone Viral. Last fall, ES launched The World’s Funniest Weather to market.

And there are still some vital shows in the weekend marketplace though from smaller syndicators: Matter Of Fact; Raw Travel; Small Town, Big Deal; and Full Court Press With Greta Van Susuren among others.

And locally, WGN still has Chicago’s Best and Backstory With Larry Potash.

But the bottom line is, there is very little being offered this fall in syndication – even when it comes to off-network dramas of which there are none.

If what I mentioned above doesn’t interest you – or if you don’t care for news/political talk, sports, reruns of Friends and Law & Order: SVU ad nauseam, or TV preachers yelling from the pulpit, you’re better off with streaming services where original programming is always available. And it’s going to be like this for the foreseeable future.

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The state of syndication in 2020

Two new talk shows are being offered this fall: CBS Television Distribution’s Drew Barrymore (l.) and Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon.

With Tamron Hall and Kelly Clarkson hits, syndication’s doing well thank you very much

If you’ve read this blog over the years, I usually write a “state of syndication” article around this time every year as NATPE approaches, and it often wasn’t rosy – especially this piece I wrote in 2016, Charlie Brown dozing off and all.

But as we enter the new decade, first-run syndication has never been healthy – thanks to the successful launches of NBCUniversal’s Kelly Clarkson and Disney’s Tamron Hall talk shows and the continued overall strength of numerous veterans from Ellen to Wheel Of Fortune to Judge Judy – something to celebrate as the 57th edition of NATPE kicks off today from the Fontainebleau Hotel & Resort in Miami Beach.

Syndication also received a boost from James Holzhauer’s success on Jeopardy! as his winning streak and his play in the recent Tournament of Champions helped achieve numbers the already successful game show hadn’t seen in years. It led to ABC picking up several episodes of Jeopardy! for prime-time this past month featuring Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Ruetter. Dubbed The Greatest of All Time, each show drew around 15 million viewers, stunning industry execs (Sony is produced the specials for ABC; CBS Television Distribution had no involvement.)

According to TVNewsCheck and iSpotTV, the ten most-watched syndicated programs took in $335 million in ad sales in the 4th quarter, with Clarkson taking in $17 million, just missing that list. Clarkson has drawn 1.7 million viewers daily, with Hall right behind her at 1.2 million – that’s more than several prime-time shows on The CW.

We could see all first-run programs (except one) who debuted last fall return for a second season – and this is coming from a part of the television business that once saw a 90 percent failure rate for freshman shows. Already renewed are Clarkson and Hall, with Fox’s 25 Words Or Less (also with 1.2 million viewers, tying Hall) and weekly political talk show Full Court Press also receiving green lights for season two. Also likely to get picked up for next season include NBCUniversal’s Judge Jerry, Trifecta’s Protection Court, and even Sony’s The Mel Robbins Show, who is rated at the bottom of the talk show pack.

Robbins currently averages around a 0.4 Nielsen household rating and 466,000 viewers. But on the former Tribune stations (now Nexstar), Robbins’ non-confrontational talk show is likely drawing more ad revenue than the programming it replaced – usually trash shows such as Steve Wilkos, Jerry Springer, or Maury, which Tribune has aired for years. In Chicago, WGN-TV replaced Maury with Robbins at 1 p.m. last September with Povich sliding to 2 p.m. Recently, Robbins was upgraded from late-night in Los Angeles to 4 p.m. on Nexstar CW affiliate KTLA.

The lone show likely not coming back is Sony’s America Says, off-GSN episodes airing locally on Fox-owned My50 (WPWR) at 4 p.m.

Despite low ratings, Mel Robbins’ talk show could actually return for a second season, thanks to stronger ad revenues than the conflict shows it replaced on the former Tribune stations.

So far, two new talkers have been announced for next fall: CBS Television Distribution’s Drew Barrymore (cleared in 38 percent of the country via CBS O&Os) and Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon, cleared in 40 percent of the country on Fox O&Os, where it will air twice a day in Chicago over Fox 32 (WFLD) and My50. Cannon has already received a leg up on Barrymore by engaging in a well-publicized social media feud with his longtime nemesis Eminem.

The real question is where both shows are going to wind up on Chicago TV schedules, given Fox’s stations have renewed their entire slate of syndicated programs for next fall, while CTD could decide to clear Barrymore on another station in town, similar to what Disney did with Hall last year by shifting the show to WCIU as ABC 7 (WLS) had no room on its schedule due to Windy City Live if CBS 2 (WBBM) decides not to replace Hot Bench at 2 p.m.

Sony is preparing to launch The Good Dish, a cooking/lifestyle program with Daphne Oz, daughter of Dr. Oz. With Maury up for renewal in 2020, it’s entirely possible Dish could replace him in some markets, including Chicago if Robbins come back, or serve as a replacement for Robbins if she doesn’t.

As for off-network fare, the lone “off-network” sitcom being released for fall is the off-CBC Schitt’s Creek, already picked up by the Fox O&Os. Both WGN and WFLD and numerous other stations have reduced their time devoted to off-network sitcoms in recent years and replaced them with news or other first-run programming. And as I pointed out last July, the marketplace for weekend non-sports programming continues to be weak as stations have all but abandoned the daypart (I’ll have an update on the weekend programming situation in the next post.)

Though NATPE is a place where syndicators traditionally do deals with stations, the last few years saw several shows sold well after the convention took place – for example, CTD rolled out Daily Mail TV in March 2017 and Trifecta announced Protection Court last May.

So how has syndicated TV stayed relevant? Dating back to the 1970s, syndicated programs were more diverse, with animated kids programming, scripted sitcoms and dramas, made-for-TV movies and specials, and later reality programs in addition to talk, magazine, and game shows.

But most of those genres dried up in the last 15 years or so due to changing viewer tastes (and this was even before streaming arrived), and it left the business with mostly first-run talk, magazine, and game shows in daytime, early fringe (afternoons), and prime access (6-8 p.m.) But this reinvention formula is working for both stations and syndicators as these types of shows are less impacted by delayed viewing and streaming, unlike prime-time programming on the broadcast networks and entertainment cable channels.

TVNewsCheck contributed to this report. 

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WGN-TV to add nightly sports show

Jarett Payton and Dan Roan on the set of CLTV’s “Sports Feed” in 2016.

Continues programming expansion at Bradley Place

Nexstar once again continues its push for more programming out of WGN’s Bradley Place by launching a nightly sports show at 10:30 p.m.

Billed as “GN Sports”, the program is hosted by WGN sports anchors Dan Roan and Jarrett Payton. The show displaces one of two airings of off-network sitcom The Goldbergs, which relocates to 12:30 a.m.

While a few stations do a nightly sports show, it’s typically on the tail end of a newscast and lasts only 15 minutes, similar to what WGN sister station KTLA (Sports Final) and CBS-owned independent KCAL (Sports Central) in Los Angeles does. But WGN’s effort is a full half-hour and airs at 10:30 p.m. The program is scheduled to start January 28.

According to a press release, the new show “will feature sports news and highlights of the day, in-studio guest interviews on upcoming matches, as well as the latest in sports gaming, fantasy sports and more.” The first week features Payton from Super Bowl LIV in Miami, and will regularly feature reports from Lauren Magiera and Josh Frydman.

The move to create GN Sports was made in part to at least have some sports presence on the station as WGN lost the rights to all four pro sports teams last year. It also brings a nightly sports show back to local television after the demise of Sports Page, a victim of CLTV closing up shop last month.

The addition of another local show is part of Nexstar’ plans to expand local programming at WGN. Earlier this month, WGN added more weekend newscasts in early morning and at 10 p.m. and a political show, the generically-titled WGN-TV Political Report. And last week, Nexstar announced a national news effort from WGN’s Bradley Place studios called News Nation to air on WGN America beginning next summer.

Moreover, the addition of GN Sports is another blow to syndicators – especially the off-network sitcom business as WGN – like other stations across the country – are bailing out on the genre altogether as viewers of such fare are more likely to binge-watch those type of shows on streaming services (WGN still airs off-net sitcoms in prime-time seven nights a week and after 11 p.m.) This continues a trend where local stations are filling time periods with news and home-grown fare and in some cases (such as the Fox O&Os) more first-run syndicated programming.

And GN Sports is a decent alternative to late-night talk shows on the broadcast networks and those obnoxious anchors on ESPN’s SportsCenter, where at least one version of the show often degenerates into lousy “Bad Beats” highlights and dumb sound effects.

The arrival of GN Sports has no effect on WGN’s traditional Sunday night sports wrap-up show Instant Replay, which continues to air at 9:40 p.m.

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Marquee Sports unveils on-air lineup, programming

New RSN drops details; Xfinity still not on board

The Cubs and Marquee Sports Network finally (finally!) unveiled details about the new network to fans Saturday at the annual Cubs Convention in downtown Chicago.

Programming on the channel consists of the obvious fare you would find on similar regional sports network channels: Cubs pre-game and post game shows and Cubs “All-Access” programming. There are also plans to air classic Cub games; live and condensed games with minor-league teams affiliated with the Cubs; and documentaries featuring Cubs greats, among others.

Marquee is also tapping programming from co-parent Sinclair Broadcasting, including Ring Of Honor Wrestling and others from the Fox regional sports networks, including college sports and soccer. Sinclair, who is a partner in the Marquee venture with the Cubs, bought Fox’s RSNs for $10 billion last summer.

On-air talent was also announced: The NFL Network’s Cole Wright was named studio host for the pre and post game programming, and Taylor McGregor was named field reporter. McGregor had a similar role with the Colorado Rockies telecasts on AT&T SportsNet and during ESPN College Football telecasts. Returning to call the games of course, are Len Kasper and Jim DeShies.

Other names announced were Ryan Dempster, Mark DeRosa, Doug Glanville, Jason Hammel, Chris Myers, Carlos Pena, Dan Pleseac, Lou Pinella, and Rick Sutcliffe –  allcould do studio work or be added as a third analyst. Myers could also fill-in for Kasper and Wright from time-to-time.

One fan in the audience at the session noted Kelly Crull, who was the on-field reporter for Cubs games when the team was on NBC Sports Chicago, wasn’t announced and a few in the crowd noted there was only one female named in the entire announcement.

Fans were also updated on where things stood when it came to who would get the network at launch when it officially debuts on February 22. Aside from Mediacom, Charter, and AT&T (who signed a deal last fall), the list unveiled was basically a hodge-podge of smaller cable companies though RCN was at the top of the list, serving neighborhoods on Chicago’s lakefront stretching from Rogers Park to the South Loop, including downtown, River North, and the Gold Coast. RCN also serves north suburban Lincolnwood and Skokie.

Notably missing was Comcast’s Xfinity, who is the Chicago-area’s largest cable provider estimated at 1.5 million homes throughout the ten-county DMA. Also missing was Wide Open West, who mainly serves neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side (in addition to Xfinity.) At the con, the team urged fans to ante up the pressure on Xfinity to add the channel. Of note is Marquee didn’t do the same with Dish, figuring getting on their system is now a lost cause as the satellite provider is drawing the line on RSNs because they’re too expensive.

 

Marquee officials said they are currently working on deals with Xfinity and other providers including streaming services.

The unveiling of Marquee went a whole lot smoother Saturday as the mere mention of the name Friday by Cubs co-owner Tom Ricketts was booed on stage. “You guys won’t be booing about the Marquee Network in one year”, he told the crowd, who were already agitated by a lack of off-season moves (as opposed to the cross-town rival Chicago White Sox.)

The move to Marquee this year marks the first time in the modern media era the vast majority of Cubs games won’t be on over-the-air broadcast TV. Even though we now have more information, the rollout could have been handled a whole lot better, with not letting Tom Ricketts appear anywhere near an audience full of people for starters.

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Fox Television Stations launch new streamer Fox Soul

Fox-owned stations launch OTT service targeting African-American viewers; Fox 32’s Later With Leon to be featured 

In an ambitious move, Fox Television Stations announced Monday the launch of Fox Soul, a over-the-top service targeting African-American viewers between the ages of 25 and 54.

The new streaming service is featuring live-streaming original programming in prime-time and late night, roughly from 8 p.m. to midnight Chicago time, and shows from Fox owned-and-operated stations, including Fox 32’s (WFLD’s) Later With Leon, which airs weeknights at 11:30 p.m., excluding Fridays.

The channel is advertiser-supported and the shows are on-demand when the channel isn’t live streaming.

“We are proud to debut this African American focused channel, created by and for the members of the black community”, said Fox Soul head of programming James DuBose in a statement. “We intend to inform, inspire, and empower our viewers by meeting their needs for authentic conversations on topics relevant to our lives.”

Original programming on the channel includes shows featuring former Hughleys star Elise Neal (Fit and Fab, a weekly series on health and nutrition) and former Dallas radio personality and Deal or No Deal model Claudia Jordan (she hosts Out Loud, a talk show providing a black woman’s view on numerous issues regarding dating, beauty, and relationships.)

Another interview show features R&B singer Keyshia Cole with One On One.

Other original programs include On the 7 With Dr. Sean featuring Dr. Sean McMillian tackling hot topic issues in the African-American community; The Mike and Donny Show featuring Mike Hill and Donny Harrell featuring frank discussions about the issues black men and women face today; and The Tammi Mac Late Show, featuring the KJLH-FM/Los Angeles radio personality celebrating black culture through music, spoken word, and performance through meaningful conversation. Fox Soul is also urging audiences to interact with the shows via by the streaming app, social media, or going the old school route by simply calling in.

The OTT service also is featuring a stable of local shows from Fox’s owned-and-operated stations including Later With Leon, hosted by WGCI-FM’s Leon Rogers and Fox 32’s Tia Ewing. Others include The Q (featuring Quincy Harris from WTXF/Philadelphia); The Isiah Factor: Uncensored (featuring Isiah Carey of KRIV/Houston); and Chicago native Lisa Evers with Street Soldiers, a weekly program airing on New York’s WNYW. Evers is a general assignment reporter for WNYW and has a radio show on Hip-Hop WQHT/Hot 97.

Also airing on the service is Fox’s syndicated Dish Nation.

This is the first time a station group has launched an OTT service. In a statement, Fox Television Stations’ said “Fox Soul represents a unique approach to targeting a specific, passionate demographic and community who can benefit from the original content, format and interactivity that the new digital platforms can uniquely provide.”  The launch comes as local stations are seeking to retain many of their viewers as possible as more and more streaming options are taking hold.

So far, reviews haven’t exactly been kind and the branding of the channel feels dated (“Soul”). But it is a work in progress.

Fox Soul is available now at foxsoul.tv and via app through Apple, Android, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.

 

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Nexstar to launch new Chicago-based national newscast on WGN America

Broadcast group jumps into the cable news game with a different approach to news – the traditional way

With the announcement of a new national newscast originating from Chicago, Nexstar is making a huge financial investment in the Windy City.

The Irving, Tex.-based broadcaster announced Wednesday the launch of a three-hour prime-time national newscast originating from Chicago’s WGN-TV Bradley Place headquarters to air on cable network WGN America, currently available to 75 million viewers nationwide including in the Chicago area. Nexstar acquired WGN-TV and WGN America in an overall deal with Tribune Media for billions last year.

The title of the news show is NewsNation, (formerly used by NBC News and was hosted by then-MSNBC host Tamron Hall) as Nexstar plans to draw content from its 110-plus stations with local news operations. Heading up the new venture is current WGN-TV news director Jennifer Lyons with plans to launch this summer. Lyons has been instrumental in WGN’s continued news success as the station in recent years lost CW programming and rights to Chicago sports teams, including the Chicago Cubs.

There are no plans to air the national newscast on WGN-TV; the station already airs an hour of local news in prime-time at 9 p.m.

In a press release, Nexstar CEO Perry Sook pointed out the properties they have at their disposal to launch this ambitious project. “Nexstar has the largest newsgathering organization in the country, with 5,400 journalists in 110 newsrooms throughout the U.S., including capitol news bureaus in 20 states across the nation. We get to the scene of important breaking news first and provide live coverage delivered by reporters who know the local community and can provide the proper context for what’s happening. This is a powerful combination and gives us a great foundation on which to build News Nation.”

“News Nation will be primetime content that WGN America owns and controls. By aggregating our current news resources to produce News Nation, we can leverage WGN America’s strong reach across the U.S. and develop a new unbiased national news broadcast without incurring incremental operating expenses.”

Plans include an app to provide breaking news 24/7 and the newscasts are being heeded as “unbiased” and “straight down the middle”, differentiating them from the fare currently offered on the cable news networks. Nexstar officials say than plan less emphasis on politics and more on breaking news and feature stores, as no commentary or opinion segments are planned.

Nexstar plans to hire more than 100 journalists for the project to be based from WGN’s Bradley Place headquarters.

WGN’s Bradley Place headquarters to be home of Nexstar’s new prime-time newscast airing on WGN America.

Since Nexstar took over Tribune last year after closing on its acquisition of the Chicago-based broadcaster, the company has shaken up the local TV station and its radio counterpart as they look to invest in their newly bought Chicago properties. Among the moves: expanding WGN-TV news on weekends, adding a weekly political news show, and shaking up WGN-AM by replacing Steve Cochran with Bob Sirott. But last month, they shuttered local cable news channel CLTV due to low viewership and sparse reach.

On Monday, Nexstar officials were so incensed at a Crain’s Chicago Business article over future plans for WGN Radio – suggesting they were grooming the station for a sale, they ended their relationship with the magazine.

So far, no hires have been made but one notable name is still a free agent – former Fox News correspondent Shepard Smith, who left the network last year in a shocking move.

The move also answers a question regarding the future of WGN America as the former superstation has gone under several incarnations over the years, including a dip into original programming such as Manhattan, Salem, and Underground, but eliminated much of its scripted and reality programming when Sinclair announced it was a buying Tribune in a deal later aborted. WGN America finally became available to Chicago cable consumers in 2014 after Tribune decided to separate the cable feed from the local WGN-TV, something Atlanta’s WTBS did in 2007 when it became a standalone cable network and separated from the local station, which became WPCH-TV (now owned by Meredith Broadcasting.)

It remains to be seen how NewsNation would compete with the cable opinion news shows – for one Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity each average four to five million viewers a night, while MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow draw two to three million viewers – often beating some of the broadcast networks, particularly Fox and The CW. Is there an audience for straight forward news without the sideshows? For journalism’s sake, let’s hope so.

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iHeart Media announces cuts nationwide; Chicago stations lays off three (so far)

Nation’s largest radio chain eliminates positions in belt-tightening

In 2009, Clear Channel Communications announced one of the biggest radio layoffs in history, cutting 1,850 positions announced on January 20, the same day President Obama was inaugurated into office. At the time, I wrote: “Even more appalling is their plan to cut back on live, local programming and add more syndicated content. The audience has been telling them for years they demand live and local programming. But since Clear Channel doesn’t listen to or care about the listener, why bother?”

Well, here we are eleven years later, and it looks like we’re reading and repeating the same script.

In a massive restructuring, iHeartMedia – the former Clear Channel – announced sweeping layoffs across the country, as they “reorganize” to become something else. From All Access: 

“iHEARTMEDIA has revamped the organizational structure of its Markets Group that it says will put markets into three divisions and add a fourth covering multiple markets and will create hubs to consolidate programming, marketing, digital, podcasts, sales and sales support resources. The company characterizes the move as “moderniz(ing) the company to take advantage of the significant investments it has made in technology and artificial intelligence (AI) and its unique scale and leadership position in the audio marketplace.” 

“The consolidation will create “Centers of Excellence” using artificial intelligence and other technology into hubs that the company claims will “provide a better experience for listeners and business partners and a more efficient process for all of its employees.”

Translation: There will be more syndicated programming and less live and local content as they merge functions in numerous markets. For example, the Dayton cluster and the Cincinnati one could share the same hub in the newly-created “Southern Ohio Center Of Excellence”.

Instead of live and local programming, iHeartMedia is directing more of its resources to producing awards shows and music festivals.

In a memo sent to employees, [BOB] PITTMAN and RICH BRESSLER said that “there will be some employee dislocation — some by geography and some by function — which is the unfortunate price we pay to modernize the company.  We have had to make some tough decisions, and in the process some employees have been affected.  Please know we were thoughtful in this process and have provided enhanced severance benefits as well as outplacement assistance for any impacted employees, and we want to thank them for the valuable contributions they have made.”

The process of those “employee dislocations” began Tuesday morning with on-air layoffs in Des Moines, Indianapolis, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Toledo among others. Later in the day, the iHeart Media cutting caravan came to Chicago with three on-air personalities axed at the cluster as reported by Robert Feder: Chris Michaels of urban AC V103 (WVAZ-FM); DJ MoonDog (aka Michael Muniz) of urban contemporary WGCI-FM and Trace Hamilton of country outlet Big 95.5 (WEBG-FM.) All three worked evenings; this means – at least for now – there are no live jocks on Chicago iHeartMedia stations after 7 p.m. One tweeter said a Bobby Bones rerun would air in evenings as a replacement at Big, and syndicated programming for V103 and WGCI could be in the offering.

And this isn’t all – more layoffs are expected this week and could include Chicago and other markets. When all is said and done, the number of layoffs nationwide could match or surpass those of the 2009 massacre. iHeartMedia took the unprecedented step of removing their entire roster of on-air personalities from all of their websites.

The news of the iHeartMedia layoffs were greeted with scorn on Twitter. Here’s a sampling of responses:

 

 

 

 

 

The layoffs comes despite iHeartMedia’s WLIT-FM dominating the last book with Christmas music, sweeping all dayparts. V103 is among the top three stations in Chicago, while Kiss 103.5 (WKSC) is marginally successful and WGCI and Big 95.5 are clearly struggling as their respective formats are also in a slump. Some of the fired personalities in the affected markets (such as Louisville) were tops in their daypart overall and in key demos.

The layoffs come as Rolling Stone reported Tuesday iHeartMedia’s two contemporary-hit radio stations in the top two markets (New York and Los Angeles) refused to play songs from Korean boy band BTS and Lil Nas X despite their successful chart runs because the songs were – and I’m paraphrasing here – “not white enough”, harking back to the post-disco and pre-Michael Jackson Thriller era (roughly early 1980 to early 1983) when Top 40 stations and MTV basically refused to play songs from black artists.

As I said over a decade ago, cutting back on live and local programming isn’t the way to attract audiences, and iHeartMedia is making the same mistakes it did back then. And it has doubled-down on the way it operates business – in the last decade, iHeartMedia has held Jingle Balls, Music Festivals, and awards shows to attract A-talent superstars, even though the music artists do not get a single penny from their airplay from terrestrial radio. The iHeart deals basically shuts them up, preventing them from speaking out against the company (in fact, not one performer has said anything about Tuesday’s major layoffs.)

So much for having artists in employees’ corner, many of whom (usually off-air personnel) are earning hardly anything to make ends meet – a problem brought up more and more in the past year in the media business as the #PayUpHollywood tag attests.

With the massive layoffs in radio and newspapers (with Alden Capital flexing its muscle on the board of Tribune Publishing), traditional media has still not figured out how to navigate the changes taking place. Tuesday’s actions means iHeartMedia is throwing up their hands, despite the gibberish they were crowing about in their press release. The one thing iHeartMedia had in their arsenal to compete with Sirius/XM, podcasting, and streaming services such as Spotify and Amazon Music  – live and local content – is no longer a priority. Watching the same scenario play out again 11 years later is like a rerun of a bad TV show that never ends.

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