Nexstar Media Group is changing the name of its cable network WGN America to NewsNation, a major step in converting the channel into a full-time TV news operation.
The Irving, Texas-based company announced the name change Monday along with plans to expand its lineup of daily news programming from three to five hours. Both moves are effective March 1 and more additions to the news lineup are expected over the next year, including a morning show.
Nexstar, which is the country's largest owner of TV stations, entered the national news business in September when it launched a daily prime-time newscast called "NewsNation." Based in Chicago, the program draws on the staff and resources of Nexstar's stations and is aimed at offering viewers a nonpartisan alternative to the prime-time opinion hosts on established cable news channels CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.
"NewsNation" is off to a slow start, drawing fewer than 100,000 viewers in prime time according to Nielsen data. But Nexstar's decision to name the channel after the newscast is strong indication that it will forge ahead with long-term plans to be a player in cable news.
Cable news channels have seen their audience levels surge in recent years as TV viewers turn to streaming for scripted sitcoms, dramas and movies. They are also watched live, making them appealing to advertisers who want audiences to see their commercials.
Nexstar Chairman and Chief Executive Perry Sook told financial analysts in December that the company is happy with the content on “NewsNation” but acknowledged that viewers are having trouble finding it. Sook said the company’s research found that only 12% of viewers are aware of the program.
The WGN America name has likely hurt the "NewsNation" launch as viewers do not associate the channel's name with news programming.
WGN America started in 1978 as a cable "superstation," presenting entertainment, news and sports programming from local Chicago station WGN to cable and satellite TV carriers nationwide. (The call letters WGN go back to the station's original owner, the Chicago Tribune, and are an acronym for "World's Greatest Newspaper.") The channel was renamed WGN America in 2014.
Once WGN America becomes NewsNation, the channel's prime-time newscast will be renamed "NewsNationPrime," airing from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern. The network previously announced it will launch a news-driven talk show with journalist Ashleigh Banfield at 10 p.m. Eastern and 7 p.m. Pacific on March 1.
The other new programs include an hourlong program at 6 p.m. Eastern, "NewsNation: Early Edition" which will be anchored by Nichole Berlie, who currently appears on the weekend edition of "NewsNation."
At 7 p.m. Eastern, "NewsNation" anchor Joe Donlon will move to his own program, "The Donlon Report," which will focus on newsmaker interviews. Rob Nelson and Marni Hughes will continue as co-anchors of "NewsNationPrime."
Nexstar will continue to run repeats of sitcoms and dramas on NewsNation during the day until they are replaced by news programming.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.