2020 stories to watch: So how did we do? (Don’t ask.)

When 2020 started, T Dog Media looked at the stories to watch throughout the year. 

But one story no one saw coming was the coronavirus pandemic, or Covid-19. Killing 300,000+ people, the pandemic upended the way we lived around the globe. It had an profound effect on anything and everything and I do mean everything. 

So how did we come out? A lot differently than anyone thought. 

1. The battle of the streamers. With NBCUniversal’s Peacock and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max joining Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Hulu, Disney, and other smaller outfits, 2020 is going to see how much viewers can put up with in the streaming wars.

Streamers certainly came of age in 2020 as the pandemic spurned lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. The biggest shift came when Warner Bros. decided to launch “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max in addition to theaters December 25, and decided to move its 2021 slate to HBO Max, angering some guy who produced “Tenet”.

2. Linear TV’s struggles to continue. With a huge threat from more streaming services, can linear TV – traditional over-the-air and cable TV – stay relevant – especially among younger viewers?

The pandemic has hastened the demise of linear TV as networks weren’t able to tap into scripted programming and were stuck with low-budget reality programing and game show reboots, including one from the 1960s based on a chore we all hate. Can a toilet-cleaning competition be far behind?

3. The launch of the Marquee Sports Network. This is going to be the most anticipated launch in Chicago, even more so than the streaming services. But as of this writing, the Cubs’ new network still doesn’t have deals with any providers in the Chicago area (outside of DirecTV) and hasn’t announced any on-air talent.

Marquee did finally strike deals with Comcast, Wow, Mediacom and others – though not with Dish. The RSN debuted on February 22, but the pandemic left the channel with hardly anything to air as the MLB season was delayed until July.

4. Chicago morning radio smackdown. The new year starts with new (and familiar) faces with Richard Miline taking over from Lin Brehmer at WXRT and Bob Sirott taking over from Steve Cochran at WGN. There are also new syndicated morning shows at Soul 106.3 (Ricky Smiley) and Power 92 (The Morning Hustle.)

The year ended with Mancow exiting WLS-AM and Melissa McGurren leaving Eric Ferguson’s morning show on 101.9 The Mix and Orion Samuelson retiring from WGN-AM. 

5. The presidential race. The Race For The White House will indeed generated tons of revenue for local TV and radio stations (not to mention Google and Facebook) as there has yet to be a Democratic front runner to challenge President Trump.

And that person was former Vice-President Joe Biden and he won in November by seven million votes in an election President Trump said was “rigged”.

6. Chicago Tribune and Alden Capital Group. The controversial private-equity firm has already bought into Tribune Publishing (owner of the Chicago Tribune) and two seats on the board. On June 30, they can take control with a 51 percent stake. Will local journalism suffer….even more?

On Wednesday, Alden announced it was exercising its option to buy the rest of the shares it didn’t own in Tribune Publishing, so yeah.

7. Retransmission battles. If last year was any indication, 2020 could be even worse for cable and satellite viewers as media companies and providers continue to battle over how much they could get paid to carry their signal, and if negotiations don’t work out… off the air they go.

The pandemic slowed down those type of disputes but picked up again a few weeks ago when Dish feuded with Nexstar and Tegna did the same with AT&T. At least there’s some sense of normalcy!

8. The XFL Returns. No one is going to care in Chicago since we won’t have a team at start, but it will be interesting to see if Vince McMahon can avoid repeating the same mistakes that doomed the league in the first place.

The XFL ceased operations shortly after the pandemic again, but compared to two decades ago, the league’s gameplay and presentation received a better reception. Former WWE star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson bought the league out of bankruptcy and could resume in 2022.

On a side note, XFL highlights did show up on a couple of local news and sports highlights shows.

9. The impact of sports betting. With Illinois and other states expected to roll out sports gambling this year, sports networks and radio stations are more than certain to roll out more programming as guides to win (or lose) more money.

The pandemic halted all sports events, so Illinois and other states slowed those rollouts as priorities had to be shifted elsewhere. But when the games resumed, so did those obnoxious betting commercials. Man, so many commercials.

10. Will there be a work stoppage in Hollywood? Taking a page from the Chicago Teacher’s Union – who went on strike last fall for two weeks, the Writer’s Guild of America is expected to use some of those same tactics and apply them to their looming negotiations with the studios. If their ongoing battle with agents are any indication, we could in for a long and painful work stoppage.

And thanks to the pandemic, there was no strike as the Writer’s Guild abruptly changed course and struck a deal with the studios. Whether it was a good one is a matter of debate.


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