The E.W. Scripps Company is relaunching its national news network Newsy as a 24/7 news outlet that will broadcast over-the-air and OTT.
The “fact-based, non-opinionated” news network will be headquartered in Atlanta, which is where the main studio, newsroom, control room and its largest number of employees will be based.
Beginning Oct. 1, anchored live news programming will run from the early morning until 8 p.m. and originate from Atlanta, with another hour of news airing at 11 p.m. to service the West Coast.
The network will have bureaus of various sizes, ranging from Washington D.C. and Chicago, to Missoula, Mt., and Tulsa, Okla, where Scripps owns local stations. In terms of Newsy’s five prime time programs—three during the week and two on weekends—three of them are based in Washington, one is in Chicago and the other is a documentary.
TV news executive Kate O’Brian joined Scripps in April, and is leading the charge as the head of news for the company’s national TV networks business. The longtime ABC Newser, who served as the network’s svp of news, is no stranger to up and coming news networks—having also served as president of Al Jazeera America, which shut down in 2016.
In terms of the rebrand, “I look at it as both horizontal and vertical,” O’Brian told TVNewser. “The horizontal side is, we’re creating a 24/7 network, which is extremely exciting. But we’re creating this 24/7 news network for an entirely new audience to 24/7 news, and that is the over the air audience.”
At launch, Newsy will be in 92% of TV households. “On the OTA side, these are viewers who have never had the option of looking at news all day long, we see it as a tremendous upside to be able to create news content that we believe it’s going to resonate through the American audience in that over the air marketplace,” said O’Brian, adding there will be no difference between the over-the-air and OTT product.
“And that’s the beauty of what we’re doing,” she said, adding that—unlike CNN, Fox News or MSNBC—Newsy is not subject to any restrictions from MVPDs like Comcast, Spectrum and DIRECTV.
Newsy will eventually be looking at unique content for the OTT audience, which is traditionally younger. Newsy was originally a millennial-facing product, but the rebranded network is considering the entire audience.
As a free, ad-supported service, O’Brian said the network “will be looking at sponsorship with an editorial frame of mind. We do have advertisers, we will continue to have advertisers, but at the moment, we haven’t really opened the door yet for sponsors to come in.”
Diehard TV news viewers will notice some familiar faces on Newsy, like former CNN and Fox News anchor Dave Briggs, former CNN International anchor Natalie Allen (who will helm weekdays, 7-8 p.m.) and former ABC News anchor Rob Nelson.
The former co-host of CNN’s Early Start, Briggs is returning to his morning show roots, and will co-host Newsy’s morning show Morning Rush from 7-11 a.m, ET, joined by Alex Livingston, Stephen Graddick and Veronica de La Cruz. “It’s going to be a news show, it’s not going to be a morning chat show, but with good chemistry among the four anchors,” said O’Brian. “Each will present different stories and do interviews both with newsmakers and with our folks in the field. It will really adhere to what we’re looking at as a vision for the entire network, which is, we are determined to create content that the audience will connect to because it’s strong, compelling, engaging visual storytelling. We’re in the visual medium, so let’s use the visual medium to be able to connect to an audience.”
Rob Nelson will solo-anchor the 4-7 p.m. time period on Newsy. O’Brian has a longtime working relationship with Nelson, having hired him at ABC. “Rob brings a host of experience at network, at local, and at new formats,” said O’Brian.” I’ve known him a long time and he’s a terrific reporter and a terrific anchor.”
Of Nelson’s program, Newsy Reports, O’Brian remarked, “It’s a news show, not an opinion show, but we’re going to be working with him to shape it in a way that we collectively see fit for his talents.”
As part of Scripps, Newsy will have access to the company’s local reporters in various markets, in addition to its own Newsy correspondents. The network will also be able to tap Court TV reporters which is also based in Atlanta. In 2017, Scripps acquired Katz Networks, which owns Court TV.
“For Hurricane Ida, we were all over the place; Louisiana, Texas, and Florida, and so were the Scripps local stations, and we all work together,” said O’Brian. “The Scripps local stations took Newsy reporters’ news, we took their reporters and the same thing will happen with Court TV. There will be certainly will be plenty of legal stories. We will have our own in-house experts who share the same space in Atlanta, so it will be pretty easy to bring somebody into the studio to have a conversation on the next big trial.”
It has been a whirlwind time for O’Brian, who stepped into the role in April. Roughly six months later, she’s re-launching a 24/7 news network in the middle of the pandemic. So, how did she end up here?
“I know some people at the Scripps organization and when this job was posted, I was already a very happy consultant and having a wonderful time,” she said. “I consulted for The Washington Post, consulted for Voice of America and for other smaller startup news organizations. I got a call from someone in the executive team at Scripps, and they said, ‘Hey, look at this job.’ My first answer was, ‘I’m fine, thanks. I’m really enjoying my consultancy.’ And then they said, “well, why don’t you just talk to the person who runs the Scripps Networks just to see what it’s like? And in one conversation with Lisa Knutson, who runs Scripps Networks, I realized that this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
“This was an opportunity to bring high-quality and non-opinionated news to a new audience, which is a potentially massive audience. It was also the opportunity to go back to my roots of what I learned at ABC, which is to have high quality, beautiful visual storytelling, compelling, engaging, content and be able to build that for this audience. And I thought, ‘wow,’ I mean, at this point in my career to be able to do that it was kind of a gift. So I couldn’t say no.”
With Scripps’ 61 stations in 41 cities, Newsy will have reporting resources across the country.
“We believe that in order to cover the news in the United States, you actually have to live in the places that you’re covering, so that you really know those communities,” said O’Brian. “We’ve been incredibly lucky in these bureaus. We’ve chosen places like Missoula, Montana, because we looked at a map, and we looked at where the competition was, and we saw big news deserts. We thought, ‘it doesn’t mean that there’s not news there,’ and we want to make sure we’re reporting those stories from those areas.”
“The other part of that was we’re trying to cover beats that may not be traditionally covered,” she said, “and so we hired people who were really good at certain things that we don’t see very often on other national media.”
This includes correspondents who are well-versed on climate issues as well as Indigenous America and tribal affairs.
Newsy joins a crowded field of TV news options including Nexstar’s NewsNation, STIRR from Sinclair, as well as several partisan networks, from Newsmax on the right to TYT on the left.
Judging success will come in various ways. “One is, how many people are tuning in. On OTT we’ll know exactly how many people are watching us. But also, on impact and on viewers’ response and word of mouth.” Newsy is not going to be rated by Nielsen, at least not right away. “We will be, after however many months we think it’s prudent,” said O’Brian.
“We have our own research department internally, and we will be paying attention. Our success and our viewer numbers based on our own research will not be a mystery,” said O’Brian.
But for O’Brian, it starts with quality storytelling.
“We are making sure all the facts are included in all of our packages, in all of our interviews and in all of our explanations. It’s not for us to be telling people, it’s for others to be telling us: ‘Oh wow, you’re not telling me how to think, you’re just giving me the facts, so I can figure out how to think about it.’ That’s very much at the heart of our vision of how we want to create the best kind of news content for an audience.”