NewsNation appears to be encroaching on CNN’s ‘Debate Night in America’ branding

Nexstar’s NewsNation has been announcing initial plans for 2022 midterms coverage, along with what appears to be its picks for branding debate and election night coverage.

It appears the network will use the banner “Decision Desk 22” as an umbrella brand for its election and related coverage, though the network’s representatives did not return a request for confirmation of that.

This includes a “Road to Decision Desk” tour the weeks of Sept. 19 and 26, 2022, featuring national correspondent Brian Entin traveling to key states and ending in Texas on Sept. 30, 2022, for live coverage of the gubernatorial debate between incumbent Greg Abbott and challenger Beto O’Rourke.

NewsNation is branding that evening as “Debate Night in America.”

If that name sounds familiar, that’s become it is. CNN has used the “Debate Night in America” branding for several election cycles.

It has also used the related “Election Day in America” and “Election Night in America” titles in the past as well as shortened versions such as just “Debate Night” or more descriptive titles such as “Democratic Presidential Debate.”

NBC also used “Decision Night in America” during the 2016 election — and its sports division uses “Football Night in America” for its NFL pregame show.

CNN did not respond to a request for comment about NewsNation’s use of the name or if it plans to continue to use the “Debate Night in America” moniker.

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As part of its Decision Desk coverage, NewsNation also announced it will provide live coverage of upcoming debates in Georgia (Oct. 14, 2022) and Pennsylvania (Oct. 25, 2022) as well, noting that it will be the “only national channel” to do so.

NewsNation’s “Decision Desk” branding strategy is one that hasn’t been used on a major TV outlet in recent years as primary branding — though it does have some similarities to NBC’s “Decision 2022” branding and the website Decision Desk Headquarters’ name. It’s also a term that’s typically referred to frequently throughout election night.

In journalism, the term “decision desk” refers to an often isolated workspace that is set up to analyze incoming voting data and ultimately decide on if the outlet will call a race for a particular candidate. These spaces are often void of any way to access other media outlets to avoid having any calls be influenced by another source.

NewsNation’s move to seemingly encroach on CNN’s debate branding is interesting and a bit puzzling. It’s not clear if NewsNation’s decision was made on purpose or if no one checked to see if the name was already being used.

In fairness, NewsNation has committed to carrying a significant number of debates in multiple states — whereas CNN has not. Since it’s not a presidential election year, there are no debates between those candidates (and the future of those isn’t clear) so the network doesn’t have as much reason to use debate branding.

There’s also no rule saying that two (or more) networks can’t use the same branding for debate coverage or any other major story. This happened most recently when several networks covered the death of Queen Elizabeth II under similar and identical names.

That said, at least part of the idea behind branding major coverage is to help the network stand out and create a memorable name that its audience remembers. 

Networks could claim trademark protection on election branding, either simply by using it publicly or through federal registration. There does not appear to be any pending, live or dead trademark registration for “Debate Night in America,” according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Whether or not the phrase could be trademarked is debatable, as it were.

Registering a trademark at the federal level is a defined process that includes the opportunity for others to challenge the registration and for experts to consider if the phrase is too generic to be claimed by a single party — and it’s night clear if “Debate Night in America” would fall into that category. 

“Debate night” by itself is probably generic enough to be trickier to trademark, but adding “in America” isn’t exactly a common phrase or the way people might naturally refer the evening in casual conversation. 

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NBCUniversal does, however, have “Football Night in America” registered at the federal level. 

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