Move is reminiscent of Netflix deal as shakeup hit digital subchannel space
Circle chooses FAST channel over linear as it shutters
Usually when we talk about format changes, we talk about radio (i.e. WDAI-FM dumping rock for disco or WLUP becoming a Christian music station and so forth) but in television, it rarely happens – unless you’re in the digital subchannel space.
In a surprise move with little or no advanced notice, CBS digital channel Dabl (seen locally on WBBM-TV channel 2.3) changed formats from lifestyle programming to reruns of off-network sitcoms targeting Black female audiences on Friday, airing six sitcoms with mostly Black casts: Girlfriends; Half & Half; Sister, Sister; One On One; The Game; The Parkers; and Moesha.
Of these, Sister, Sister aired on ABC and The WB; and The Game aired on The CW for three seasons starting in 2006, when The WB and UPN merged to create the network. The Game was re-launched on BET in 2011 and was recently rebooted a third time with a mostly new cast on Paramount Plus, which was canceled earlier this year.
Dabl is the second lifestyle channel to shutter this week; earlier, Tegna pulled the plug on Twist after nearly three years with both airing reruns of female-targeted reality shows – with most not really known for the highest quality if the titles Candice Tells All and Dance Moms were any indication. Dabl launched on September 9, 2019 with the CBS-owned stations as its core group and had reruns of Martha Stewart Living as a centerpiece and was run by CBS Television Distribution (now CBS Media Ventures.) But it also had its fair share of reality TV junk as well, including Hotel Hell and Kitchen Nightmares.
In 2020, CBS Media Ventures – who owns the syndication rights to all seven off-network sitcoms, made a similar deal with Netflix for the exact same shows. At the time, Netflix trumpeted the deal at the time as part of the streamer’s Strong Black Lead Initiative. The deal with Netflix is perhaps one of the reasons Dabl is no longer available on streaming platforms.
In an unusual move, CBS declined comment on the format change and offered no explanation on why it is taking place.
Meanwhile, country-themed Circle is closing its linear digital subchannel on Sunday but remaining as a FAST (free advertising streaming television) offering. Circle had two different feeds with one named Circle Network (for linear) and Circle Country (for streaming), and operated by broadcaster Gray Television with Nashville-based Opry Entertainment Group, who of course, operates the Grand Ole Opry. Circle airs programming targeted to country music fans and rural America with both original and off-network fare. Circle was available on CBS-owned stations, including WBBM on Channel 2.5.
On January 1, Gray is replacing Circle on linear with Free TV Networks (yep, that’s the name) a joint venture between Gray, Lionsgate, and Warner Bros. Discovery. Two formats are launching – The 365, featuring programming targeted to Black audiences and Outlaw, featuring western movies and reruns of shows such as F Troop. It is not known if the CBS-owned stations who carried Circle would replace it with one of the two formats, but with Dabl already converting into a network targeting Black audiences, it is unlikely they would carry The 365 but may carry Outlaw.