The move is another commitment from Nexstar to turn WGN America into a full-fledged news channel. WGN America launched a three-hour primetime newscast on Sept. 1. The plan is to add news hours at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Earlier this month, Nexstar tapped veteran journalist Ashleigh Banfield to host a 10 p.m. talk show that also begins March 1. At that time, Nexstar executives said the arrival of “Banfield” would coincide with an expansion of news programming.
“Rebranding WGN America as NewsNation underscores the network’s clearly defined mission of delivering fact-based and unbiased news, while making it easier for viewers to find this new informative source for news,” said Sean Compton, president of Nexstar’s networks division. “At the same time, expanding our news programming to five hours Monday through Friday will extend the network’s reach and the depth of its news content across more weeknight time periods, delivering viewers more national news and regional stories from across the U.S., as well as coverage of the day’s most important issues.”
The 6 p.m. hour will be dubbed “NewsNation Early Edition,” anchored by Nichole Berlie At 7 p.m., anchor Joe Donlon will anchor a deeper dive into the day’s headlines with “The Donlon Report.”
“NewsNation’s” core 8-10 p.m. national newscast will continue to be anchored by Marnie Hughes and Rob Nelson, who have been the newscasts since its Sept. 1 debut. Donlon had been part of the primetime anchor team but will shift to the 7 p.m. hour.
The “NewsNation” transition for WGN America has been rocky so far from a ratings standpoint. Nexstar is hoping that a long-term commitment to news will eventually pay off in the form of news programming that Nexstar owns and controls outright. The broadcast giant is also counting on realizing savings from not having to fill as many hours on its schedule with licensed programming.
Amid the shift to NewsNation, the channel has picked up another 8.5 million subscribers from carriage deals with Hulu, YouTube and other virtual distributors. That brings its total distribution base to about 75 million households.