Ambitious effort comes in the middle of pandemic; CBSN Chicago finally launches
During a conference earnings call Wednesday, Nexstar – owner of WGN-TV in Chicago and former superstation WGN America, detailed more information on their new venture for their cable network, NewsNation.
“This will be hard news, 100% absent of bias,” Nexstar CEO Perry Sook said. “We’re so serious about that we’re hiring a panel of rhetoricians to review our broadcasts for unconscious bias that may creep into the words we use and the reporting that we do.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the process of hiring has been slow – just 30 to 40 people out of the 140 planned employees have been hired thus far for the new prime-time project, scheduled to run on WGN America seven nights a week from 7 to 10 p.m. local time (repeating from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.) with 197 Nexstar stations contributing content. NewsNation is currently building a state-of-the art studio at WGN-TV’s studios on Bradley Place. The big selling point is the channel is aimed at the “heartland”, a.k.a. anywhere outside of New York and Los Angeles, the nation’s two largest media markets, and Washington, D.C., the sixth-largest.
The new effort is scheduled to premiere September 1, weeks before the prime-time season begins.
A few weeks ago, Nexstar unveiled a new multimedia marketing website promoting NewsNation, touting its heartland location with an “all-original format”emphasizing on live pictures and breaking news. Nexstar also plans to develop a website, mobile app, and smart TV options for NewsNation.
Sook said there is a need for unbiased journalism. “From my barber to certain investors, people have said that the timing for this couldn’t be better,” Sook said on the conference call. “The country just wants straight news, no opinion and they’ll make their own decisions.”
The new NewsNation is going head-to-head with opinion shows on cable news networks Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. Fox News alone generally draws anywhere between three to five million viewers a night with its pro-Trump programming.
NewsNation is creating an advertiser-friendly environment for marketers who avoid scheduling ads in or around controversial opinion shows and to attract viewers who are looking for hard news. “Advertisers know that the value of live programming, from a ratings standpoint, is much stronger than running off-network sitcoms or hour-long dramas,” NewsNation sales and marketing executive vice-president Dave Rotem said. “Viewers watching news are more engaged and more likely to make purchasing decisions.” If anything, the newscasts should improve WGN America’s prime-time ratings.
Meanwhile, the other big news project in this town arrived on April 21 as CBS-owned WBBM-TV finally launched its 24/7 streaming service CBSN Chicago. Announced last year, the CBS-owned stations would create 24/7 local news streaming services for each of their individual markets.
Naturally, CBS launched the local versions of its online CBSN service in New York and Los Angeles from the newsrooms of WCBS-TV in December 2018 and KCBS-TV in January 2019, respectively. But the nation’s third-largest CBS-owned station had to sit and wait behind smaller CBS-owned markets such as Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Denver, and Pittsburgh.
Adding to the wait, the coronavirus pandemic delayed hiring to staff the new venture. For now, the channel is airing encore telecasts of CBS 2’s newscasts, but it is not known when the station would be able to add original content. The channel was meant to fill the void left by the closure of CLTV by Nexstar late last year.
CBS plans to launch the last four O&O local news streaming services in Baltimore, Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Sacramento later this year, likely with the same encore news format CBS 2 currently has in the interim. CBS owns four other stations (Detroit, Atlanta, Seattle, and Tampa-St. Pete – the latter three are CW affiliates only), but has no plans to launch any local news streaming services in those markets.
CBSN Chicago and all of the CBS-owned local streaming services are available on CBSNews.com, the station’s websites, and the CBS Local app available on numerous platforms.