WGN enters 10 p.m. news battle

Mark Suppelsa, Dan Roan, Tom Skilling and Micah Materre

Mark Suppelsa, Dan Roan, Tom Skilling and Micah Materre

Long Chicago’s television news leader at 9 p.m., WGN-Channel 9 will expand its late news to 10 p.m. this fall, the Tribune Media station announced Tuesday.

Starting October 5, WGN will add a 30-minute newscast at 10 p.m., to be anchored by the 9 p.m. team of Mark Suppelsa, Micah Materre, meteorologist Tom Skilling and sportscaster Dan Roan.

“To be in the local news game, you’ve got to be on in the key time periods,” said Greg Easterly, president and general manager of WGN. “Ten o’clock is too big of a time period to be ignored.”

Greg Easterly

Greg Easterly

It’s a move certain to impact the three network-owned stations already battling over a fractured news audience at that hour. In the latest Nielsen ratings, ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 leads in total households at 10 p.m. but virtually ties with NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 for viewers between 25 and 54, the most advertiser-coveted demographic. CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 is a distant third.

“Chicago’s Very Own” hasn’t aired news at 10 p.m. for 35 years. In 1980 WGN moved its half-hour newscast at 10 p.m. to 9 p.m. and expanded it to a full hour.

While 9 p.m. news viewers will be encouraged to stick around at 10 p.m., Easterly said, the additional half-hour will deliver fresh content as a standalone entity with news, weather and sports.

“We want it to be a newscast for people who haven’t been watching us at 9 for whatever reason,” he said. “We know people are doing a lot of other things at 9 o’clock — whether they’re out and about or on their DVR —and let’s face it, we live in an on-demand society. The reason we’ve expanded so many newscasts is that people want news when they want it. Now we want to be there at 10 o’clock when people want their news.”

Undoubtedly WGN’s biggest draw at 10 p.m. will be Skilling, the immensely popular weatherman, who’ll be featured prominently in the first segment of every broadcast. “It will be a showcase for Tom,” Easterly said. “Knowing that a lot of viewers would love to have Tom’s take on the weather before they go to bed, I think it’s a unique opportunity to put him on right at 10.”

“Celebrity Name Game,” the syndicated game show hosted by Craig Ferguson that now airs at 10 p.m., will move to 10:30 p.m., effective October 5. It also will continue to air weekday mornings on WGN from 10 to 11 a.m.

WGN

WGN

The move marks the latest expansion at WGN, which currently airs 61 hours of live local news each week. On weekdays it includes a six-hour morning news show from 4 to 10 a.m., midday news from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., another block from 4 to 6 p.m. and the hourlong primetime “WGN News at Nine.” All are bona fide ratings successes.

Until WGN becomes a 24-hour local news operation, there’s still room to grow.

“If I see an opportunity in the marketplace where I think we can be a good competitor, we’re going to expand our news when it makes sense,” Easterly said. “I think it makes sense now.”

He added: “I’m very proud of our team. There’s a lot of energy in the newsroom, and they’re working hard to earn the trust of viewers every day. They know our future is doing local programming. We’re excited that we’ve done so well where we’ve expanded up to this point.”