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The Next Streaming ‘Plus’ on Your Screen Could Be Local News

Michael King

Disney+, Paramount+, AMC+, CNN+ — If your favorite channel has a streaming component, more likely than not, look for a “plus” at the end of its name.

So, how long before we start seeing this showing up in the local television news space? Believe it or not, we’re already there. Memphis’s NBC station WMC already has WMC Plus, and likewise, the Baton Rouge ABC station WBRZ has WBRZ Plus. Both digital platforms are being used to stream additional local news content to their viewers.

In the same way, every local newsroom around the nation is looking at crafting new ways to generate viewers and revenue in an increasingly fractured streaming universe.

Different broadcast groups are approaching this dilemma in various ways. The CBS Owned & Operated stations, for example, have joined forces with CBS News to create rolling news channels that live within the CBS News app. Each city’s local news station becomes its own entity that not only streams the stations’ regular local newscasts, but includes the opportunity for additional newscasts. You’ll also find major market CBSN channels on free services like Pluto TV.

Gray Television uses its digital bandwidth to stream content through the VUit app and website. Rather than having its stations stream singularly, Gray has a central hub monitor content and aggregate it into an anchored streaming program feed called Local News Live that is made available through the group’s websites and the VUit app. Cox’s stations run ongoing live streams on each of their websites.

Conversely, while Sinclair Broadcast Group has baked local news content into its Stirr app in a more linear fashion, it, too, relies on providing news at a point other than when traditional news is on. Nexstar points viewers toward its NewsNation product, which aggregates content from its stations — while Scripps is expected to do much the same thing with Newsy once that network relaunches in October.

Since your local network affiliates have different ownership structures, we’re unlikely to get some kind of universal app for all CBS affiliates, for example. There are also other issues as some sports leagues have major restrictions on when and where their highlights can be shared. That means local sportscasts could run into trouble on a new streaming platform.

Using the Baton Rouge station as an example, the initial streaming concept was simple — simulcast any newscast on the main channel, then add more hours of local news content when WBRZ is in network or syndicated programming. WBRZ Plus became a good outlet for breaking news not worth interrupting programming on the main channel for — such as local news conference coverage, for example.

“If you’re seeking out Plus, you’re seeking WBRZ news content at a time that’s more convenient for you. So we’re going to deliver the same strategy across both stations,” WBRZ news director Trey Schmaltz said in a piece from Arizona State’s Cronkite News Lab.

The strategy echoes the mindset of many viewers who have cut the cord and shifted from traditional television viewing to streaming. The idea there is to view content at a time and place that is more convenient and desirable. This takes the concept into a new realm: local news.

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