"Chicago Nonstop," a 24-hour digital channel of local news, entertainment and lifestyle programming, could be up and running as early as this fall, according to insiders at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5.
Nothing has been announced yet, but staffers are developing original local content for the channel, modeled after "New York Nonstop," which was launched at sister station WNBC-TV in March 2009 and billed as "an around-the-clock local information and lifestyle channel." It's targeted to start here in October.
Heading up the project is Matt Piacente, a veteran executive producer who was promoted last May to manager of news and content development for NBC Chicago News. "This is a new position, and a sign of the critical importance of growing our presence on other platforms," Frank Whittaker, Channel 5 station manager and vice president of news, said at the time. "Matt will help us escalate our push into new arenas such as our digital channels and mobile."
Sources said the new format would replace the automated weather graphics and live radar now occupying the 5.2 digital channel. Universal Sports, an outlet for Olympic-style sports programming, would continue on the 5.3 digital channel.
Details are sketchy, but "Chicago Nonstop" is likely to debut with a good deal more lifestyle programming than news, considering that timeless, lighter fare can be repeated cheaply and endlessly. Once the channel generates revenue, additional resources may be devoted to producing more topical and timely offerings. Channel 5 might be wise to consider simulcasting a Chicago radio show -- just as "New York Nonstop" planned to do with "All Night with Joey Reynolds," featuring the former WOR-AM talk show host.
John Wallace, president of NBC Local Media, underscored the importance of the project throughout the television station group when he appointed former WNBC general manager Tom O'Brien executive vice president of Nonstop Network last month. In announcing the move, Wallace said:
"The development and launch of NY Nonstop has been a great success for us in New York, and Tom's leadership will be invaluable as we develop this important property for our other stations across the country.‚ This will further our commitment to provide even more local news and programming to our communities."
In terms of developing its digital subchannels, Channel 5 lags behind several competitors, most notably ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7, which launched the Live Well HD Network last year, and Weigel Broadcasting's WCIU-Channel 26, which cleverly complemented "The U" with unique programming channels branded as Me-TV, Me-Too and This TV. Window to the World Communications' WTTW-Channel 11 repurposes public television shows along with instructional and Spanish programming on three digital outlets. Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9 recently dropped its Spanish subchannel, providing no explanation other than posting the cryptic note: "LATV is no longer part of our digital programming line-up. Thanks for watching."
The digital tiers of CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 and Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 remain, at least for time being, dormant.