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Nexstar’s “NewsNation” grabs few viewers at launch

The "stick-to-the-facts" prime-time newscast drew less viewers than all three cable news networks.

The "stick-to-the-facts" prime-time newscast drew less viewers than all three cable news networks.

The news set for WGN America's prime-time news program "News Nation."
The news set for WGN America’s prime-time news program “News Nation.” (Photo: Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

Despite launching in the shadow of heavy local television promotion, Nexstar Media Group‘s prime-time news experiment drew small numbers for its inaugural broadcast.

According to results reported this week by Nielsen Media Group, Nexstar’s “NewsNation” drew around 30,000 viewers in key demographics.

The number represents a small fraction of the cable and satellite subscribers who have access to WGN America, the Nexstar-owned pay TV network that airs the program.

Launched on September 1, NewsNation marries a new team of news anchors, producers and directors at WGN America with hundreds of general assignment reporters and meteorologists at Nexstar’s local TV stations across the country.

Several sources told The Desk complaints had been sent to Nexstar in which the company was accused of prioritizing NewsNation to the detriment of local station products. At least one news director said Nexstar had ordered stations to set aside local prime-time commercial ad inventory to promote News Nation. Another source complained that one of NewsNation’s three-hour broadcast competed directly against the local TV station’s own late-night newscast.

It appears all the promotion and questionable edicts from Nexstar didn’t pay off at launch. Of the 75 million households who have access to WGN America via cable or satellite, only 133,000 overall viewers tuned in to watch News Nation’s first broadcast earlier this week. That figure includes 34,000 registered Nielsen households who fall within certain key demographics that are crucial for setting commercial ad rates.

Though it promotes itself as an opinion-free, just-the-facts alternative to prime-time debate and panel shows on cable news networks, News Nation fell far behind Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN and CNBC on Tuesday.

NewsNation fared better than some fledgling services, including NewsMax TV and the Black News Channel.

Executives at Nexstar are staying the course for now, believing NewsNation’s ratings will steadily climb as more viewers become exposed to the program through commercial ads and on social media, according to a source.

But NewsNation’s reach has been limited from the beginning: The show is only available on WGN America, which is distributed exclusively through cable and satellite providers. WGN America isn’t available on streaming TV services like Sling TV or YouTube TV, and Nexstar has no long-term plans to make the program available to stream online without a cable or satellite login.