Last week, WGN America premiered a new national news program called NewsNation during primetime in an effort to take on the cable news big three power players CNN ($T), FOX News (NASDAQ:FOXA), and MSNBC ($CMCSA), . With a three-hour long newscast, the channel hopes to bring an unbiased approach to national cable news. But will it succeed?
WGN is owned by Nexstar (NASDAQ:NXST), one of the nation’s largest operators of local stations for reporters on the ground and to use resources. The channel will source local stories across 110 Nexstar stations. A channel launching during an unprecedented pandemic is definitely a major hurdle, and it will need to stand out and distinguish itself to be a viable alternative to the news that's already out there.
Is NewsNation different?
Not really. WGN NewsNation says it's in touch with the heartland and middle America, while being based out of Chicago, America’s third largest city. Other networks, to an extent are trying the same kind of thing, utilizing local stations and basing themselves outside the traditional media hubs. NBC News recently launched LX which utilizes their network of owned and operated stations for streaming programs targeting a younger audience. LX runs through NBCUnivesal’s 42 owned and operated stations such as Dallas and Miami.
CBS News (NASDAQ:VIAC) launched 24/7 non-opinion driven programming for local markets including New York, Minneapolis, Boston, and Denver among others. ABC News Live ($DIS) breaks into local news coverage for breaking stories, as well.
The national news market is saturated
According to a 2018 study from Pew Research 78% of Americans want unbiased news.
I’ve been watching the @NewsNationNow premiere tonight on @wgnamerica. Wow. A newscast with actual news. Prime time on the big three cable news networks is mostly opinion from talking heads. This is so much better.— Shane Raynor (@ShaneRaynor) September 2, 2020
A new national newscast is taking on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC— Gigi 😷 (@Gigisaysthis1) September 1, 2020
WGN America is hoping to establish itself as a cable news network with the launch of “News Nation,” a prime-time newscast that the company says will deliver unbiased reporting. That would be refreshing.
So far, viewership is abysmal. The show brought in 133,000 viewers; from an available 75 million households, during its first night on the air. In comparison, Tucker Carlson brought in 5 million viewers. News Nation claims to be bias-free, but as the hyper-partisan era has proven; bias lies in the eye of the beholder. For better or worse, that hasn’t really swayed consumers like opinionated primetime programming seven of the top ten cable shows in primetime are cable news programs.
Cable is an uphill battle on a shrinking mountain
The market direction is clear. Cable is not the way of the future. Other channels have tried to break into the American cable market and haven’t met the mark. Take Al Jazeera America, for example, the channel built out of one of the most revered and respected news organizations in the globe. The quality of news was top notch. They poached powerhouse talent including Ali Velshi, former Good Morning America anchor Antonio Mora. But, without a competitive audience, it folded.
It’s too early to tell if NewsNation will flop. But the timing of the launch, while the markets are saturated and existing cable networks are actually seeing an uptick in viewership, doesn’t bode well for WGN. However, a more robust set of voices is needed in journalism as the industry shrinks amid years of layoffs, only perpetuated by the pandemic. With the backing of Nexstar’s stations, there could be a chance.
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