NewsNation (American TV network)
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|Network||The WB (1995–1999)|
|Slogan||Your News. Your Nation.|
|Picture format||1080i (HDTV)|
(downscaled to letterboxed 480i for the SDTV feed)
|Owner||Tribune Media (1978–2019)|
Nexstar Media Group (DT Media Group) (2019–present)
|Launched||November 9, 1978|
|Available on most U.S. cable systems||Channel slots vary depending on the provider|
|Dish Network||Channel 239|
|AT&T U-verse||Channel 180 (SD)|
Channel 1180 (HD)
|AT&T TV Now||Over-the-top TV|
|Verizon FiOS||Channel 68 (SD)|
Channel 568 (HD)
|Sling TV||Over-the-top TV|
|YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, FuboTV, Vidgo|
NewsNation is an American subscription television network that is owned by the Nexstar Media Group, and is the company's only wholly owned, national cable-originated television channel. The channel runs a mixture of entertainment programming (consisting of comedy and drama series, and theatrical feature films) for most of the broadcast day and a straight-news format—via a daily national prime time newscast, NewsNation Prime—during the evening and early overnight hours. On March 1, 2021, the channel was relaunched from WGN America into NewsNation, a cable news network named after its flagship news program, as part of a planned expansion of its news programming.
As of September 2018[update], NewsNation was received by approximately 80 million households that subscribe to a pay television service throughout the United States (or 62.7% of households with at least one television set).
As a superstation-turned-traditional entertainment channel
WGN America was originally established on November 9, 1978, when United Video Inc. began redistributing the signal of WGN-TV (channel 9) in Chicago, Illinois—which, alongside WGN America, Chicago-based local cable news channel Chicagoland Television (CLTV) and news/talk/sports radio station WGN (720 AM), was among the flagship broadcasting properties of Tribune Media (formerly known as the Tribune Company prior to the August 2014 spin-off of its publishing division) until the closure of Nexstar's acquisition of Tribune in September 2019—to cable and satellite subscribers throughout the United States. This expanded the prominent independent station into America's second satellite-distributed national "superstation," after the concept's progenitor, Atlanta, Georgia-based WTBS (now separately operating as WPCH-TV in the Atlanta market and as conventional subscription channel TBS nationwide).
As the national feed of WGN-TV, the channel broadcast a variety of programming seen on the Chicago signal, including sports (mainly Chicago Cubs and White Sox baseball, and Chicago Bulls basketball games); locally originated news, children's, religious and public affairs programs; movies; and syndicated series. The WGN local and national feeds originally maintained nearly identical program schedules, aside from some sporting events that were restricted to the Chicago-area signal under league policy restrictions. In the years following the January 1990 re-imposition of federal syndication exclusivity regulations, programming between the two feeds increasingly deviated as the WGN national feed incorporated alternative syndicated programming to replace shows on the WGN-TV schedule that were subjected to market exclusivity claims by individual television stations and some local programs that the national feed chose not to clear (particularly from the late 2000s onward, as the WGN Chicago signal began expanding its local news programming and added lifestyle programs to its schedule).
On December 14, 2014, WGN America was converted by Tribune into a conventional basic cable network, at which time it started to be offered on cable providers within the Chicago market alongside its existing local carriage on satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network. Simulcasts of WGN-TV's Chicago-originated local newscasts, news specials and public affairs programs, special events and sports telecasts — with the exception of a one-hour simulcast of WGN-TV's morning news program that was carried early weekday mornings during the transitional period — immediately ceased being shown on a national basis the day prior. (The former parent station, WGN-TV, maintains a separate schedule of local and syndicated programs exclusively catering to the Chicago market.) The channel began to focus squarely on acquired programming (including shows held over from its superstation era), and by 2015, began to incorporate a limited schedule of original drama and reality series.
Conversion to cable news channel
On September 1, 2020, WGN America launched a three-hour-long prime time newscast, NewsNation, which began development in October 2019, when Nexstar management commissioned research from television subscribers that determined a share of survey participants were dissatisfied with opinion-based programming on cable news channels such as CNN (which had previously offered straight news programming within its evening lineup, before shifting into somewhat liberal-leaning personality-based programming in the mid-2010s), MSNBC (which gravitated toward liberal opinion/talk programs beginning in 2008), and Fox News (developed in 1996 with a conservative-leaning format that has drawn scrutiny for its utilization of talking points and false claims, specifically about liberals and minority groups). The program draws partly from the broadcast and digital resources of Nexstar's television stations (including those acquired by Tribune Media, in addition to WGN America, several months prior).
During December 2020 and January 2021, Nexstar reached carriage agreements that added WGN America to virtual multichannel television providers YouTube TV (reached on December 1), FuboTV (reached on December 11), Hulu (reached on December 18), Sling TV (reached on December 24, through a broader agreement with Sling parent Dish Network which ended a three-week impasse in which the satellite provider lost access to Nexstar's broadcast stations) and Vidgo (reached on January 14) to expand the channel beyond its existing wireline and satellite distribution footprint, and increase exposure for NewsNation. (AT&T TV had already carried the channel since October 2019).
On January 25, 2021, Nexstar Media Group announced it would relaunch WGN America under the NewsNation brand on March 1, cutting all ties with the WGN brand after forty-three years. The name change will coincide with a gradual expansion of its news programming: initially expanding to eight hours per day (from six), the revised news schedule will be fronted by a splintered expansion of the flagship NewsNation broadcast (adding an hour-long early evening edition, alongside the existing and reduced two-hour prime time broadcast) and two host-centered news and interview programs anchored respectively by Joe Donlon and Ashleigh Banfield. NewsNation will maintain a reduced schedule of entertainment programs acquired by the channel under the WGN America moniker in daytime and select overnight slots initially; beginning with the launch of a morning news program in the summer of 2021, the acquired entertainment shows will be replaced with additional news content once syndication contracts expire.
As of 2019[update], NewsNation's programming slate relies primarily on a variety of reruns such as Blue Bloods, Last Man Standing, M*A*S*H, Murder, She Wrote, How I Met Your Mother, Elementary, Married... with Children, In the Heat of the Night and JAG. As is typical for cable networks, some of the shows airing on the channel are also available on other broadcast television stations throughout the United States; for much of its post-Syndex existence as the superstation feed of WGN-TV/Chicago, many of these programs were cleared by television syndication distributors for "full-signal" rights, therefore allowing them to air on WGN America as they do not fall under syndication exclusivity regulations (for example, although How I Met Your Mother is syndicated to other television stations nationwide, including WGN-TV, it is allowed to air on WGN America due to its clearance by 20th Television for "full-signal" carriage). However, in 2013, WGN America began to acquire exclusive cable rights to programs eligible for syndication (such as Person of Interest and Parks and Recreation) as part of the channel's shift towards operating as a conventional cable network.
Feature films on NewsNation are also cleared for "full-signal" carriage, as the channel runs movies from film packages distributed for local broadcast syndication by Warner Bros. Television, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, 20th Television, Sony Pictures Television and other distributors. Movies formed much of the superstation's prime time schedule for much of its existence until the "Superstation WGN" branding era, though there have been exceptions: fewer prime time movies aired during the week during its four-year run as a cable-only affiliate of The WB from January 1995 to October 1999, particularly as that network's programming expanded to additional nights, with films airing on a nightly basis again – except on certain nights throughout the year to accommodate WGN-TV-produced sports telecasts cleared for national retransmission – once WB programming was dropped. (Films were later removed from Sunday nights with the launch of the "Outta Sight Retro Night" block in August 2007 and from Thursday nights between 2009 and 2010 to accommodate original programs such as WWE Superstars.) WGN America then relegated its movie telecasts to Sunday afternoons and weekend late nights from September 18, 2010 until prime time films returned on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in May 2013.
Until 2012, the channel's morning and early afternoon schedule heavily relied on reruns of television series produced between the 1960s and the early 1990s. These programs were also prominently featured as part of the classic sitcom block "Outta Sight Retro Night," which aired Sunday nights (incorporating a one-hour breakaway within the block's designated nine-hour-long time period for the 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time simulcasts of WGN News at Nine and Instant Replay) from August 26, 2007 until September 5, 2010. Some of the programs shown as part of the block – which included series such as WKRP in Cincinnati, Newhart, ALF, Barney Miller and The Honeymooners – had previously aired on WGN prior to the re-implementation of Syndex, or even after the rules went into effect on the Chicago signal or/and the superstation feed. (Tribune Broadcasting later included some of these shows on Antenna TV, a broadcast network focusing on classic television series that Tribune launched on January 1, 2011.
During the early 2000s, WGN America acquired sub-run syndication rights to series that had previously aired in their original broadcast runs during the channel's affiliation with The WB, including 7th Heaven, The Wayans Bros., Sister, Sister and The Parent 'Hood. Between 2006 and 2009, WGN America ran teen- and preteen-oriented sitcoms during mid-afternoon timeslots such as Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens and Sister, Sister, only for these shows to quickly be moved to overnight graveyard slots (when the show's target audiences are usually not awake) and then removed from the channel entirely shortly afterward. This was likely due to the restructuring of Tribune's television division and a distribution agreement with the Disney Channel that proved too expensive to maintain.
Original and licensed programming
On August 21, 2008, WGN America announced a partnership with Indianapolis radio station WFBQ to broadcast a televised version of The Bob & Tom Show radio program, originally produced for the Tribune-owned Indianapolis duopoly of Fox affiliate WXIN (channel 59) and CW affiliate WTTV (channel 4, now a CBS affiliate). The program debuted on WGN America on November 3, 2008, originally airing in a standard late night slot, before being shifted to an overnight graveyard slot until the Bob & Tom television broadcast ended on September 13, 2010. On December 19, 2008, Tribune reached a deal with World Wrestling Entertainment to broadcast WWE Superstars as an hour-long weekly program on WGN America. The program started airing on WGN America on April 16, 2009, airing on the channel for two years until Superstars was dropped from its lineup after the April 7, 2011 telecast. (WWE Superstars was then made available on WWE's subscription-based WWE Network until its cancellation in November 2016.)
In April 2010, WGN America announced it would begin carrying Earl Pitts Uhmerikun, a television version of the radio commentary series created by Gary Burbank. Burbank – whose segments as the "middle American" archetype character began airing on the channel that same month – had long maintained a close relationship with certain executives working at that time for the Tribune Company, who approached him about bringing the segments to television. The commentary was aired in the form of a series of 90-second segments that aired on WGN America until November 2011, usually during simulcasts of WGN-TV newscasts.
As part of WGN America's restructuring, the channel began to develop original programming – some of which will be produced through Tribune Studios, a production and distribution unit formed in March 2013 to develop syndicated programs that would be seen primarily on Tribune Broadcasting's television properties (the subsidiary's predecessor, Tribune Entertainment, was a contributing supplier of syndicated programs to WGN America prior to the unit's 2007 shutdown). On June 4, 2013, WGN America placed a 13-episode order for its first original scripted program, the drama series Salem (which is based around the Salem witch trials), which premiered on April 20, 2014. The network debuted its first unscripted series, Wrestling with Death, on January 13, 2015.
Tribune began shifting WGN America's development slate away from scripted content under the stewardship of interim Tribune President/CEO Peter Kern, shortly after he replaced Peter Liguori as head of the company in March 2017, beginning with the cancellation of the drama series Outsiders. When Sinclair Broadcast Group announced its proposed purchase of Tribune Media, Sinclair CEO Christopher Ripley's plans for the channel to focus on "cost-effective" original programs were cited as being based on the assertion that the network's then-current original programming budget was unjustified based on the channel's ratings (while not among the top 25 highest-rated cable networks, WGN America's viewership had gradually increased since the introduction of original scripted series, posting its highest monthly ratings in March 2017, during which it total viewership averaged 446,000 viewers and viewership among adults ages 25 to 54 totaled at 157,000). Ripley's statement immediately put into question the future of the slavery-era period drama Underground, which premiered on the network in March 2016 and ended its second season two days after the announcement of Tribune acquisition on May 10, 2017. Reports stated that Underground production company/distributor Sony Pictures Television would seek other network and streaming partners to continue the program (with Hulu, which maintains a content deal with WGN America, being among the possible candidates); WGN would announce its decision to cancel the series on May 30. (Underground ultimately did not find a service willing to order a third season of the series.)
Since the network reduced its original programming budget, WGN America has chosen to focus its first-run programming efforts on scripted programs of reasonably lower production cost, including programs originally developed for international syndication, some of which would form the basis of the "Prime Crime" programming block. The first of these licensing agreements was announced on July 31, 2017, when WGN America acquired the U.S. television rights to the Anna Paquin-led Canadian drama Bellevue. This was followed on August 8, when it acquired the U.S. rights to the Canadian crime dramas Pure and Shoot the Messenger, and the German-Swedish co-production 100 Code (a starring vehicle for Dominic Monaghan and the late Michael Nyqvist), with proposed American premieres set for the first half of 2018. Bellevue was the first of these licensed series to make their U.S. debut on WGN America, premiering on the channel on January 23, 2018. Pure would not make its U.S. debut on WGN America until January 23, 2019. The network returned to unscripted reality programming with the July 2019 premiere of Dog's Most Wanted, featuring Duane “Dog” Chapman (in his return to reality television following the cancellation of Dog and Beth: On the Hunt), his wife Beth (who died of cancer one month prior to the series' premiere) and their team of bounty hunters, dubbed "The Dirty Dozen," pursuing some of America's most wanted fugitives. In September 2018, WGN America began airing a revival of Ring Warriors, marking the first time professional wrestling aired on the network since their last broadcast of WWE Superstars on April 7, 2011.
On January 15, 2020, WGN America announced it would launch a three-hour-long, nightly prime time newscast titled NewsNation, which premiered on September 1, 2020. The program—which is produced from the WGN-TV facility in Chicago, in studio space formerly used by its sister cable news channel Chicagoland Television (CLTV) from 2009 until Nexstar shuttered the channel in December 2019—offers non-partisan coverage that is based upon the traditional, straight news style of local television newscasts; it primarily utilizes the journalistic resources of Nexstar Media Group's 110 television news operations (among its 197 owned-and/or-operated stations nationwide), augmenting an in-house staff of anchors, correspondents and meteorologists (almost all of which exclusively have backgrounds in local television news). The neutral broadcast is designed to compete with mainly opinion-based news programs shown on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel during the 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time slot and rebroadcasts shown in the three succeeding hours, replacing acquired entertainment programming and movies that occupied prime time and early late-night timeslots. NewsNation is the first national news effort to use WGN America as a platform since it carried the similarly formatted 1980–90 syndicated program Independent Network News under former parent Tribune's ownership (as the superstation feed of WGN-TV). The program was developed under the management of Sean Compton, who was promoted to executive vice president of WGN America upon completion of the Nexstar purchase, and former WGN-TV news director Jennifer Lyons, who was reassigned by Nexstar to serve as WGN America's vice president of news.
On March 1, 2021, coinciding with its relaunch under the NewsNation brand, the channel will expand its news programming to include the additions of three programs: NewsNation Early Edition (an hour-long early-evening newscast), The Donlon Report (an hour-long prime-access newscast anchored by Joe Donlon, who will be reassigned from the weeknight NewsNation broadcasts) and Banfield (an hour-long weeknight news/interview program hosted by Ashleigh Banfield). The flagship evening newscast, to be retitled NewsNationPrime, will also be condensed to a two-hour program (reduced from three hours).
From the time United Video uplinked the Chicago station's signal to satellite in November 1978 until the national channel became a conventional cable network in December 2014, WGN America carried various programs produced by WGN-TV's news and public affairs, sports and local programming departments for national broadcast.
When national distribution of the WGN-TV signal commenced, the national feed carried the station's two traditional long-form newscasts, Newsnine (anchored at the time of uplink by Jack Taylor, who, the following year, was shifted to the broadcast's weekend editions and replaced as lead weeknight anchor by John Drury) and Nightbeat (a half-hour, overnight news program that WGN-TV aired as a lead-out of its late night movie presentations until its cancellation in 1983); the local morning agricultural news program Top 'o' the Morning (then co-hosted by U.S. Farm Report anchor Orion Samuelson and Harold Turner); the local public affairs programs People to People (a bi-weekly public affairs program that debuted in 1973, and was then hosted by local civil rights leader Edwin C. "Bill" Berry), Issues Unlimited (a Sunday morning public affairs program moderated by Chicago Bulletin editor and columnist Hurley Green, Sr. that ran from 1971 to 1987) and Charlando (a Spanish-language talk show focusing on Chicago's Hispanic and Latino community that premiered in 1964 and aired until 1999, with Peter Nuno hosting the program throughout its 35-year run); daily midday and prime time news updates; and morning sign-on news capsules. (Charlando's replacement, the bi-weekly Adelante, Chicago, was added to the national feed in January 2000.)
On October 5, 1980, the 10:00 p.m. (Central) Newsnine broadcast evolved into an hour-long newscast, originally titled The Nine O'Clock News (later retitled WGN News at Nine in May 1993). Upon its premiere in September 1983, the national feed added a simulcast of WGN-TV's midday newscast, then known as Midday Newscope and originally structured as a half-hour local version of the Gannett Broadcasting–Telepictures-produced Newscope syndicated format. (The program was later renamed Chicago's Midday News in September 1984, WGN News at Noon in May 1993 and finally to WGN Midday News upon its expansion outside of its longtime 12:00 p.m. Central slot into the preceding hour in October 2008.) Various morning news efforts by WGN-TV were also shown on the national feed, including a traditional half-hour morning newscast, Chicago's First Report (which aired from May to December 1984), its original weekend morning news venture (which debuted in August 1992, with a Saturday edition that ran until its cancellation in December 1998 and a Sunday edition that ran until its cancellation and displacement by The Bozo Super Sunday Show in September 1994), and the weekday WGN Morning News (which aired nationally beginning at its debut on September 7, 1994). The WGN Morning News became the first WGN-TV newscast to be denied clearance on or removed from the national feed, with its removal from the lineup following the September 13, 1996, broadcast reportedly being due to self-imposed exclusivity restrictions concerning the newscast's paid segments and rate charges that the station's sales department – which negotiates the appearance and the terms for those segments – would have to pay if the segments aired nationally. (The discontinuance of the morning news simulcast also accommodated the then-newly launched Kids' WB weekday morning block, which the national feed originally intended to air alongside the block's existing weekday afternoon hour.)
The national feed also served as one of two cable distributors – along with The Learning Channel, which aired the program for the final four years of its run – for the Independent Network News (INN) (later retitled INN: The Independent News in September 1984 and USA Tonight in January 1987), a Tribune-syndicated national news effort originating from then-New York sister station WPIX that premiered on June 9, 1980 as a weeknightly prime time broadcast. (INN would expand to include weekend editions beginning on October 4, 1980, followed by the launch of a Midday Edition, which ran from October 5, 1981 until September 6, 1985.) Tribune Broadcasting discontinued production of the program – by then known as USA Tonight and aired as both part of WGN-TV's hybrid local-national 9:00 p.m. news format of the period and as a standalone overnight rebroadcast – after the June 4, 1990, edition, as a byproduct of a collaborative agreement between Tribune and the Turner Broadcasting System in which the Tribune stations were granted access to CNN Newsource content and began feeding video footage to the CNN video wire service.
From the implementation of the SyndEx rules in January 1990 until September 2014, the simulcasts of WGN-TV's midday and nightly 9:00 p.m. newscasts were occasionally preempted on the WGN national feed if either clearance issues that prevented a game telecast (usually a Bulls game shown exclusively on the Chicago signal) that was scheduled to start at or run past 9:00 p.m. Central Time shown locally from being aired over the national feed, a WGN-TV Cubs or White Sox game telecast started on WGN America at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time or – with the exception of a period from September 13, 2010 until May 2013, when it filled the prime time lineup with sitcom reruns – movies shown only over the national channel were scheduled to run past the 9:00 p.m. Central slot.
Although WGN-TV began to adopt a news-intensive schedule in September 2008 as part of a broader local news expansion amongst Tribune Broadcasting's Fox and news-producing CW stations, WGN America never cleared any of the newscasts – specifically, the concurring expansion of the midday newscast to 11:30 a.m. (Central) and launch of a half-hour early-evening newscast on September 15, 2008 (the former of which would eventually be expanded to 11:00 [Central] locally on October 5, 2009, while the latter was gradually expanded into what would become a two-hour-long broadcast by September 8, 2014 and accompanied by weekend editions that premiered on July 12 of that year) and the second incarnation of its weekend morning newscast (added locally as an hour-long broadcast on October 2, 2010) – that WGN-TV added up until the start of WGN America's conversion into a conventional cable channel. From 2008 to 2014, WGN-TV anchors referenced the WGN America simulcast at the beginning of each nationally televised newscast; until the WGN News at Nine simulcast was dropped, these references were excluded from the newscast's weekend editions and in situations where it was preempted from being shown on the national feed.
As part of the channel's programming separation from WGN-TV to accommodate original and acquired programs, WGN America began removing the WGN-TV news simulcasts from its schedule over the course of 2014. The 9:00 p.m. news simulcast was discontinued after the January 30, 2014 edition, while its companion Sunday sports highlight program Instant Replay – which began airing nationally with the program's WGN-TV debut in August 1988 – last aired nationally four days prior on January 26; accordingly, the channel also ceased airing certain specials produced by the WGN-TV news department and many of chief meteorologist Tom Skilling's weather specials, which typically aired following half-hour abbreviated editions of the newscast. Although Tribune Broadcasting CEO Matt Cherniss stated that he did not expect for the newscast's removal to cause any issues with viewers, disapproval of the move by some former Chicago residents living elsewhere in the United States resulted in the creation of a Facebook page asking for the broadcast to be returned to WGN America's schedule, citing concerns about a perceived inability to stay updated on news from the Chicago area. Regular news simulcasts were dropped from WGN America with the removal of the noon hour of the WGN Midday News on December 13, 2014, although some cable providers carrying the channel on their limited basic programming tiers continued to simulcast the first two hours of the weekday morning newscast – which the channel began clearing on February 3, 2014, at with the addition of the 4:00 a.m. (Central) hour of the broadcast, with the 5:00 a.m. CT hour being added on December 15, 2014 – in the interim until carriage agreements were amended to allow the national WGN to move to their expanded basic tiers. (The 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. CT block was not cleared due to the restrictions on paid segments, though the 5:00 a.m. hour was also restricted from being shown in some markets and substituted with paid programming.)
Other WGN-TV programming
Aside from programming shared by both the local and national superstation feeds that were cleared for "full-signal" carriage, other non-news and public affairs-based local programs shared by both feeds prior to WGN America's December 2014 restructuring as a conventional cable network have included the local children's programs The Bozo Show (which debuted on WGN-TV on June 20, 1960 and aired over the national feed in its various incarnations from November 1978 until its 41-year run concluded on July 14, 2001) and Ray Rayner and His Friends (a variety series featuring animated shorts, arts and crafts, animal, science and viewer mail segments that debuted on WGN-TV in 1962 and aired on the national feed from November 1978 until it was discontinued by the Chicago signal in 1980), and the family-oriented film showcase Family Classics (which debuted on WGN-TV on September 14, 1962 and aired on the local and national feeds until the program's original run ended on December 25, 2000).
The national exposure it received through WGN-TV's superstation reach helped turn The Bozo Show into the most well-known iteration of the Bozo franchise. As a result, at the peak of its popularity, ticket reservations for the show's studio audience surpassed a ten-year backlog through reservations made by Chicago-area viewers and some viewers from outside of the Chicago market. (WGN-TV management would discontinue the wait list in 1990, and began awarding tickets through to a contest-style giveaway.)
WGN America also aired other Chicago-based programs produced by WGN's local programming department via simulcast or on a delayed basis, such as local parades, event coverage and retrospective shows on WGN-TV's past (including the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade (which aired from 2007 to 2014, under a local broadcast/national simulcast agreement with the Chicago Festival Association), the Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade (which aired from 1979 until 2002), the Chicago Auto Show (from 1979 to 1992 and again from 1999 to 2002), the Bud Billiken Parade (from 1979 to 2011) and Bozo, Gar and Ray: WGN TV Classics (a retrospective special chronicling WGN-TV's three signature children's programs, The Bozo Show, Garfield Goose and Friends and Ray Rayner and His Friends that premiered in 2006). The national distribution also both helped bring exposure to and complicated distribution of syndicated programs produced at the WGN-TV studios in Chicago's North Center neighborhood, including Donahue (which relocated production to the Streeterville studios of WBBM-TV in January 1982 after eight years at the WGN-TV studios, citing conflicts with the station's national reach and Multimedia Entertainment's efforts to sell the program to other commercial television stations), the U.S. Farm Report (which originated from the Bradley Place facility from the agriculture program's national syndication debut in 1975 until production moved to South Bend, Indiana after Farm Bureau Journal's production unit assumed distribution rights from the defunct Tribune Entertainment in 2008), and At the Movies (which was produced from the facility from 1982 until 1990, and was hosted by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert until a 1986 contract dispute with Tribune Entertainment resulted in their move to Buena Vista Television to develop Siskel & Ebert & the Movies).
WGN America also formerly aired live Illinois Lottery drawing results, making it the only U.S. state lottery which had their drawings—including multi-jurisdictional games—televised nationally. Live drawings initially aired over the national feed as a half-hour Thursday night broadcast (then hosted by Ray Rayner) held at its North Center studios in Chicago beginning in November 1978, and transitioned into shorter, daily drawings with the introduction of the Daily Game (now Pick 3) in February 1980, running until the local lottery rights shifted to WFLD in December 1984; the drawings returned to the national feed upon their return to WGN-TV within the Chicago area in January 1987, continuing to air over both feeds until the lottery rights moved locally to WBBM-TV in December 1992. Citing in part the station's statewide cable distribution (which, after the SyndEx rules were implemented, would occasionally subject the evening drawings to preemption associated with that of the delayed 9:00 p.m. newscast when sports clearance restrictions applied to the WGN national feed), the Lottery moved its live evening telecasts back to the WGN local and national feeds on January 1, 1994, airing by then at 9:22 p.m. CT during the prime time news simulcast; midday drawings for Pick 3 and Pick 4 were added upon their introduction on December 20, 1994. (The 12:40 p.m. drawings were shown during WGN's noon newscast on weekdays, while the Saturday drawing was usually not shown live nationally because of programming substitutions; however, if newscasts aired in the drawings' designated time periods were pre-empted or were not provided by both WGN-TV and WGN America during the scheduled draw times, the winning numbers were instead shown as either a static full-screen or lower-third graphic. The Iowa Lottery used Illinois' lottery numbers for its own daily Pick 3 and Pick 4 games as a result of the channel's widespread distribution in that state until April 2014, coinciding with the then-ongoing phaseout of WGN's national carriage of lottery drawings.)
In addition to the live drawing results, the WGN national feed carried two lottery-produced weekly game shows shown on WGN-TV: $100,000 Fortune Hunt (which aired from September 16, 1989 to December 19, 1992 and from January 8 until July 2, 1994) and its successor, Illinois Instant Riches (which would later be retitled Illinois' Luckiest in 1998, and aired on the local and national feeds from July 9, 1994 to October 21, 2000). WGN America also effectively acted as the default drawing broadcaster for Mega Millions—beginning with its September 1996 inception as The Big Game—and Powerball—beginning when Illinois became a participant in January 2010—in areas of lottery-participating states where neither multi-state lottery had their drawings televised by a local station. Both games were broadcast on their respective drawing nights (Tuesdays and Fridays for The Big Game/Mega Millions; Wednesdays and Saturdays for Powerball) at 10:59 p.m. Eastern Time, except during ongoing sports telecasts. The nighttime drawings for the Pick 3, Pick 4, Lotto with Extra Shot and Lucky Day Lotto (formerly Little Lotto until 2011) as well as Powerball and Mega Millions were dropped with the removal of the 9:00 p.m. news simulcast on January 31, 2014, with the midday drawings following suit on December 15. (The Illinois Lottery continued to air its drawings over WGN-TV within the Chicago market until the lottery shifted its daily drawings exclusively to its website on October 1, 2015, upon switching to a random number generator structure.)
Through WGN-TV's longtime partnership with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) as its Chicago Love Network station, WGN America had simulcast the charity's annual Labor Day weekend telethon each September from 1979 to 2012 (having aired it in its original 21½-hour format that existed until 2010, the six-hour evening format used in 2011 and the three-hour prime-time-only format used in 2012). Through its national distribution, donations to the WGN-produced local segments of the telethon during this timeframe were also pledged by viewers in other parts of the United States and Canada that received the feed. (For most of its run on the station – except in 1994, because of that year's Major League Baseball players' strike – WGN-TV would preempt portions of the telethon on Labor Day to carry Chicago Cubs or White Sox games held during the afternoon of the holiday that were also shown on the national feed.) The MDA ended the telethon's syndication distribution following the 2012 edition, simultaneously ending WGN-TV's rights to the telethon and the WGN America simulcast. (The broadcast was converted into a two-hour special shown on ABC for the September 2013 edition of the retitled MDA Show of Strength and the event's subsequent final telecast in August 2014.)
Beginning at its inception via United Video's uplink of the WGN-TV signal for cable and satellite distribution, WGN America carried most sporting events produced and aired by its now-former Chicago broadcast parent. From November 1978 until December 2014, the national channel aired all Major League Baseball (MLB) games involving the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, and, to varying amounts depending on the season and legal issues, regular season and preseason National Basketball Association (NBA) games involving the Chicago Bulls intended for local telecast by WGN-TV. However, its national broadcasts of professional sports events (as well as those by other national and regional superstations) resulted in conflicts with the two sports leagues during the 1980s and 1990s; commissioners with the NBA and MLB and many individual teams – except for the Cubs, the Bulls and other teams which benefited from the national exposure they received from the broadcasts – contended that superstation telecasts of sporting events diluted the value of their national television contracts with other broadcast and cable networks. Sports events shown on WGN-TV that were embargoed from national telecast over WGN America were substituted with either movies or syndicated programming, though this consequently resulted in the national preemption of the 9:00 p.m. newscast during instances when nationally embargoed prime time games overran into the timeslot and delayed the newscast within the Chicago market.
In 1982, the NBA began prohibiting WGN and other superstations with a national out-of-market reach totaling at least 5% of all cable households from airing games that conflicted with those airing on its national cable partners (at the time, ESPN and USA Network), expanding it to a set 25-game-per-season limit on the number of seasonal NBA telecasts that could be licensed to superstations (sixteen fewer than the 41-game maximum under existing NBA local broadcast rules) in June 1985. A further reduction in annual superstation-licensed NBA telecasts to 20 games in April 1990 – stemming from the concurring re-acquisitions of the Bulls rights by WGN (after a four-year, locally exclusive run on WFLD) and the Atlanta Hawks television rights by TBS – resulted in a 5½-year legal battle that began with a conspiracy and antitrust lawsuit filed by Bulls parent Chicago Professional Sports L.P. and Tribune Broadcasting in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on October 16, 1990, alleging that the new rules would harm the Bulls, their fans and WGN and was aimed at "phas[ing] out such superstations telecasts entirely in increments of five games each year over the next five years." (The NBA contended the restriction was exempt from antitrust law under a provision of the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, which was deemed in later rulings to only be applicable to the sale or transfer a national game package to a television network and not those involving individual teams.) Several rulings on the matter were decided upon during the course of the proceedings, beginning with a permanent injunction issued by Judge Hubert L. Will on January 26, 1991, prohibiting the league from instituting the 25-game policy upon determining the NBA's superstation licensing restrictions were "a significant restraint of trade" in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, a decision that was upheld on subsequent appeals heard by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (on April 14, 1991) and the U.S. Supreme Court (on November 5, 1991) and by Will in the Northern Illinois District Court (on January 6, 1995), the latter of whom noted that evidence "revealed that superstation coverage of the Bulls and Hawks may actually have helped to promote greater public interest in NBA basketball."
During each of the appeals, attorneys with the NBA, WGN-TV and the Bulls agreed to allow the WGN Chicago and superstation feeds to televise at least 30 games over the between the 1992–93 and 1995–96 seasons; upon the 1995 appeal, the NBA was also allowed to impose a fee of around $40,000 (rather than the $100,000 licensing fee sought by the NBA) for each game broadcast, based on the consideration that the league received more than $2 million in annual copyright payments from WGN's Bulls broadcasts. A judiciary panel with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the 1992 decision on September 10, 1996; as a consequence, WGN-TV chose to relegate the 35 Bulls games it was scheduled to air during the 1996–97 season exclusively to the Chicago area signal. TCI cited the national restrictions on the Bulls, along with its own decision to make room for additional cable networks pending future upgrades to their headend infrastructures to accommodate digital cable service, for its subsequent decision to remove the national WGN channel from its U.S. systems outside the Chicago market, even though the national feed's removal would reduce access Cubs and White Sox games it would continue to air and would create holes in The WB's national coverage in many medium-sized and smaller markets. Around 3.5 million TCI subscribers nationwide lost access to the WGN national feed by March 1997, with some of the affected TCI systems not reinstating WGN onto their channel lineups until as late as 1998, through an effort by Tribune and United Video to take advantage of TBS's conversion into a hybrid basic cable network by further expanding the superstation feed's national distribution; however, criticism from some subscribers over the decision led TCI to rescind plans to remove the superstation feed from affected systems in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. On December 12, 1996, the Bulls and WGN reached a settlement with the NBA, which conceded to allow WGN-TV to air the league's 41-game broadcast maximum during the 1996–97 season (35 games that would only air on the Chicago signal and twelve others that would be shown on both the local and superstation feeds). From the 1997–98 season thereafter, the number of games permitted to air on the superstation feed increased to 15 per year. The parties also agreed to replace the NBA's superstation tax with a revenue sharing model, under which the NBA would collect 50% of all advertising revenue accrued from the national WGN telecasts. The restrictions, however, resulted in some Bulls away games televised by the WGN national feed being unavailable to television providers within the opposing team's designated market if the game was not carried by a national network, a local television station or a regional sports network.
Similar apparent punitive efforts by MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent to curb superstation telecasts of Major League Baseball games – including petitions to the FCC to change how its non-duplication rules define a "network program" to force cable systems to blackout superstation-licensed live sports broadcasts and to Congress for the repeal the Copyright Act's compulsory license statute – resulted in his July 1992 order to relocate the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals to the National League West and the Atlanta Braves (then also transmitted over TBS) and the Cincinnati Reds) to the National League East starting with the 1993 season. Though the Braves' WTBS telecasts and WGN's telecasts of the American League White Sox would have experienced no major effects as both teams had already played a large number of West Coast games for years, the move was seen by some as targeting WGN directly. Tribune representatives accused Vincent of using the conference realignment in his efforts and those of some MLB team owners to weaken availability of sporting events over superstations, raising concerns of negative impacts to revenue incurred by WGN-TV from its Cubs telecasts—which the Cubs denied were part of its reasoning behind its opposition to the realignment—if the team was forced to play an increased number of games against other Pacific Time Zone-based Western Division teams that started in the late evening in the eastern half of the country and to local advertising revenue for its prime time newscast if the station had to delay it after 9:00 p.m. Central Time more frequently because of the late baseball starts. Tribune responded with a breach of contract lawsuit alleging Vincent overstepped his authority in ordering the realignment. U.S. District Judge Suzanne B. Conlon sided with Tribune and the Cubs in a preliminary ruling on July 23, 1992, six weeks before Vincent was voted out as MLB Commissioner in an 18–9–1 motion of no confidence among team owners on September 4 and his subsequent resignation two days after said vote.
Due to broadcast rights restrictions imposed by the NHL to protect the league's exclusive national broadcasting contracts (in particular, its longstanding deal with ESPN that lasted until the league's 2007–08 season and a succeeding joint broadcast-cable contract with NBCUniversal that commenced with the 2008–09 season), WGN America was prohibited from carrying National Hockey League (NHL) games involving the Chicago Blackhawks – the only major professional sports franchise based in Chicago that had their WGN-TV-televised regular season games be fully embargoed from the former superstation feed – that the local Chicago signal began airing with the start of the 2007–08 season. Even prior to the decision to remove sports from WGN America's schedule entirely, the channel had chosen not to air certain sports-related programming carried on the Chicago signal such as the Blackhawks' victory parade following its 2010 Stanley Cup championship win and a half-hour special paying tribute to the late Cubs player and broadcaster Ron Santo in 2011. (In the respective cases, WGN-TV's coverage of Santo's funeral aired on the digital subchannels of selected stations owned by Tribune and its partner group Local TV, while the NHL Network provided a simulcast of the Chicago signal's feed of the Blackhawks' victory parade.)
As part of the network's conversion from a superstation into a general entertainment cable channel, on May 30, 2014, Tribune announced that WGN America would phase out national carriage of WGN-TV-originated Chicago Cubs, Bulls and White Sox game telecasts by the end of that year. Peter Liguori, president and CEO of Tribune Media at the time, cited the limited revenue and viewership accrued from the national simulcasts relative to their contractual expense – revenue was reportedly only covering 20% of the rights fees – behind the decision to drop the national telecasts. Several seasons of sub-par play by the Cubs after Tribune's sale of the team to Thomas S. Ricketts in late 2009 also played a factor, as the team's television package cost five times as much for rights fees alone as the revenue it brought in for the national broadcasts. (Ironically, two seasons later, the Cubs underwent a major turnaround and had its strongest season in decades, going on to win its first World Series championship since 1908. WGN America would air the Cubs' World Series victory parade on November 4, 2016.) The final WGN Sports-produced game telecast to air on WGN America was a contest between the Bulls and the Golden State Warriors, held at Chicago's United Center, on December 6, 2014. (In Chicago, WGN-TV wound down its telecast rights to the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks throughout 2019, ending with its final White Sox telecast on September 28, after the four teams decided to make their telecasts cable-exclusive; the Cubs will move their games to the Marquee Sports Network, a joint venture with Sinclair that launches in the Spring of 2020, while NBC Sports Chicago will begin assuming exclusive rights to the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks starting with the 2019–20 Bulls season.)
Even after the removal of most WGN Sports-produced telecasts from its schedule, WGN America has continued to air certain sporting events with national implications, including coverage of the Los Angeles Marathon from sister station KTLA (which is blacked out in the Los Angeles market to accommodate the KTLA broadcast), and Illinois-based horse racing events that serve as a prep race for any Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing event and does not have a national television deal, such as the Arlington Million (which, historically, has aired on WGN America during years when NBC Sports does not broadcast the event).
NewsNation HD is a high definition simulcast feed of NewsNation, which broadcasts programming available in 1080i, with all programming available in HD broadcast in the format. The standard definition signal is downscaled from the HD signal at a provider's headend.
WGN America is available on most multichannel television providers (including cable, satellite, IPTV and fiber-optic-based services) within the United States. However, the channel continues to have somewhat scattershot coverage (outside of satellite distribution) in portions of the Western United States and much of the New England region. Moreover, some multichannel providers in various markets where Tribune Broadcasting had owned a television station prior to the closure of the group's purchase by Nexstar do not carry WGN America. In particular, the channel was not available in portions of the New York City metropolitan area (the home market of former sister station WPIX) until January 15, 2016, when Cablevision (now Altice USA) began to carry WGN America as part of a broader deal that also saw Cablevision's then-parent subsidiary, Cablevision Systems Corporation, acquire Tribune Media's 2.8% ownership interest in Newsday Holdings. In the Chicago metropolitan area, WGN America is carried by the three major cable television providers serving the immediate area (Comcast Xfinity, RCN and WOW!), in addition to the WGN-TV broadcast signal. Prior to its conversion into a basic-tier channel in December 2014, Chicago-area residents could only receive WGN America through satellite providers Dish Network and DirecTV.
Since its conversion from a superstation, WGN America has occasionally been targeted in Tribune Media's retransmission consent negotiations with cable and satellite providers as an extraneous asset they would like to pay less for, noting that most of the channel's programming is also syndicated to other broadcast and cable-originated networks. (Examples as of 2019[update] include Blue Bloods [which also airs on Ion Television], Murder, She Wrote [aired on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries], Last Man Standing [aired on CMT and in broadcast syndication], and In the Heat of the Night [aired on MeTV and Tribune-owned This TV].) Disagreements over contractual terms resulted in Charter Communications removing WGN America and Tribune-owned television stations licensed to markets serviced by the provider from its Spectrum systems nationwide for nine days in January 2019, with Spectrum—in a looping message shown over the channels occupied by the Tribune stations during the dispute-induced blackout—referring to WGN America as a network "which very few people watch" in its defense of their position in the negotiations.
In April 1985, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved eligibility for the signals of WGN-TV and fellow American superstations WTBS, WOR-TV and WPIX to be retransmitted as foreign services by multichannel television providers within Canada. Under CRTC linkage rules first implemented in 1983 that require providers to offer U.S.-based program services in discretionary tiers tied to Canadian services, WGN-TV/WGN America and other authorized U.S. superstations typically have been sold to prospective subscribers of one or more domestic premium services – such as Crave (formerly First Choice and The Movie Network), Starz (formerly Moviepix and The Movie Network Encore), Super Channel, Super Écran and Western Canada-based regional pay services Movie Central (the original user of the Superchannel name, now defunct) and Encore Avenue (also now defunct). However, some providers have chosen to offer WGN in a specialty tier under a related rule that allows for an eligible superstation of the provider's choice to be carried on a non-premium tier. (Although KWGN-TV has also been authorized for carriage by the CRTC since that point, the Denver sister station is not carried on any multichannel television providers within Canada.)
After United Video began offering a separate national feed of WGN upon the stateside implementation the Syndex rules in January 1990, most Canadian cable providers began to replace the Chicago signal with the superstation feed as well. (Among the country's satellite providers, Star Choice [now Shaw Direct] began carrying the national feed upon the satellite provider's 1994 launch; Bell ExpressVu! [now Bell Satellite TV] began distributing the Chicago-area signal when it commenced operations in 1996.) During its four-year tenure as the network's national feed, the WGN national feed provided WB network programs to areas of Canada (mainly those far from the Canadian–U.S. border) out of the signal reach of other American-based WB affiliates; however, simultaneous substitution rules have applied to certain WB programs that were concurrently carried by Canadian-based terrestrial networks (such as NewNet and A-Channel).
Canadian distribution of the feed then known as Superstation WGN was reduced significantly on January 17, 2007, when WGN's main Canadian uplink carrier, Shaw Broadcast Services, switched its distributed feed of the station to the Chicago signal, a decision believed to have resulted from increased licensing fees for carriage of the then-superstation feed. Despite this, some providers continued to carry the national WGN channel in lieu of or – as was the case with providers such as MTS TV and Cogeco Cable – in tandem with the Chicago feed, resulting in the duplication of CW network and many syndicated programs that are available within the country on other networks (such as fellow superstations KTLA and Boston-based WSBK-TV). While CRTC had approved the Chicago station's broadcast signal and its national cable feed for carriage on any domestic multichannel television provider, the conversion of WGN America from a superstation into an independent general-entertainment service and its resulting programming separation from WGN-TV led Tribune Broadcasting to announce on December 15, 2014 that it would terminate all Canadian distribution rights for WGN America, effective January 1, 2015, a move likely done to comply with then-CRTC-enforced genre protection rules that prohibited domestic or foreign channels from maintaining a general entertainment programming format. However, most providers across Canada – including some that lost access to WGN America – continue to receive WGN-TV (which, in addition to being available to premium channel subscribers, had also previously been available as part of the NHL Centre Ice sports package, primarily for simulcasts of Chicago Blackhawks games that WGN-TV aired until the 2018–19 season), as the station is still authorized for domestic distribution as a superstation.
In relation to WGN America's prior history as a cable-originated affiliate of The WB, the following articles discuss similar cable-only affiliates of broadcast television networks:
- The WB 100+ Station Group – a station group created by The WB in September 1998, made up of mostly locally managed cable-only television outlets in small and mid-sized U.S. markets that did not have an over-the-air affiliate, which superseded WGN America's de facto WB affiliate status for these areas
- The CW Plus – successor of The WB 100+; a station group made up primarily of cable-only outlets that formerly served as affiliates of The WB 100+ Station Group and digital multicast channels
- Foxnet – a similar cable-only network for markets without a Fox affiliate, that operated from 1991 to 2006
- CTV 2 Alberta – a cable-originated affiliate of CTV 2 in the Canadian province of Alberta
- CTV 2 Atlantic – a similar cable-originated affiliate of CTV 2 in Atlantic Canada
- Citytv Saskatchewan – a similar cable-originated affiliate of the Citytv television network in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan
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