When Newsy launches its over-the-air channel on Oct. 1, it will give viewers something they do not have now, according to TV news veteran Kate O’Brian.
“We’re not going to have pundits,” O’Brian, hired by the E.W. Scripps Co. as head of news for its national networks division to oversee both Newsy and Court TV, told Broadcasting+Cable. ”We’re not going to have talking heads.
“I think there is an exhaustion level with 24/7 [news networks] that are just people talking,” she said. “I think the audience really wants to get context and try to understand the complex world we all live in. And a really great way to do that is through the visual medium.”
Many national news operations start up with promises to be fair and balanced and play stories down the middle, as O’Brian said Newsy intends to do. It hasn’t always been the most successful path.
“Look, it’s a different business model to appeal to the ends of the spectrum and there’s a big middle ground that isn’t being served really by the ends of the spectrum,” she said. “If they’re looking for 24/7 news, they’re our future viewers.”
But is there such a middle ground? Viewers seem to be more engaged with points of view they agree with, so increasingly networks have found the best way to attract ratings and ad dollars is to draw audiences either on the right or the left.
“I think what we’re doing addresses a need that we keep hearing is out there,” O’Brian insisted.
While Newsy will play it straight, it doesn’t plan to be boring. “We do not intend to be vanilla and white toast,” O’Brian said. ”I contend that you can have compelling, engaging, exciting content that isn’t vanilla and white toast and still appeal to a broad part of the audience.”
Newsy will also try to be different from what’s already out there in the news business. “With all humility, I don’t see that we have competition,” she said. ”We’re not at CNN’s level. We’re just starting to do this. We are not doing what [Nexstar Media Group-owned cable network] NewsNation is doing, because we’re doing something for an over-the-air viewer, and an over-the-top viewer, and not a cable news viewer.”
Founded in 2008 by the University of Missouri and acquired in 2014 by Scripps for $35 million, Newsy stands for “News with a Why.” It’s designed to help viewers understand the world and be fact-based rather than opinionated.
After Newsy launches over-the-air, it will continue to be distributed over the top via the Newsy app with the same 24-hour feed, making it available on any device for free. The over-the-air version of Newsy is not available on cable for now.
Scripps is the largest owner of broadcast spectrum, so Newsy will be available over the air in 90% of the U.S. and in all major markets. That creates the potential for Newsy to have more viewers than ever before.
At this point, O’Brian said she does not have a viewership target to meet. The new network won’t be getting measured by Nielsen at launch.
“We are very mindful that we're going into a very busy landscape,” she said. “And so right now, we are not rated. We will give ourselves a little time to really move up in the viewership,” she said, adding that Scripps‘s research team will be able to monitor Newsy’s progress.
O’Brian recalled that early ratings weren’t always kind to news startups, including Al Jazeera America, which she helped launch in 2013.
“The subject of every news article about them started with, ‘Oh look, they only have X number of viewers,‘ ” she said. “I think we're going to give this team a chance to really get the audience that I think it's going to have.”
Leading up to the launch of the over the air channel, Newsy had added 10 new bureaus for a total of 13. Newsy’s editorial team now has about 250 staffers.
“We have a very, very large news-gathering operation,” she said. “We’re really focusing on video storytelling and on packages. It’s why we added so many reporters and why we added so many videographers and, in some cases, documentary filmmakers.”
Launch Lineup Set
Last week, Newsy announced its launch programming lineup, with live shows from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m. ET.
“We’re starting out a little aggressively, going live all day long, rather than growing from a prime time to other day parts,” O’Brian said.
“We're going to be covering everything,” she said. ”My background is in network news, but the network mentality is bolstered by our partnership with Scripps Local Media.
“It’s incredibly important that we have both of those things going on at the same time,” O‘Brien added. ”We’re going to tell our viewers what's going on in the U.S., in the world, but we also have unbelievable content from 43 different stations that will connect with viewers where they are.”
Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.
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