CNN Headline News announced its first set of major
aesthetic and content changes since its launch by Turner Broadcasting System Inc. 17 years
Touting one of the younger demos among cable-news
providers, Headline News will feature a new, state-of-the-art newsroom sporting new
graphical bells and whistles, including an omnipresent "Superticker," as well as
four distinct six-hour dayparts.
These moves come against the backdrop of ratings pressure
on the venerable 24-hour news channel in an increasingly competitive around-the-clock
cable-TV news environment.
The total Nielsen Media Research households rating for
Headline News for the first quarter of 1999 was a 0.2. And the launches in recent years of
MSNBC and Fox News Channel have contributed to the unease -- both of those networks scored
a 0.3 during the same period.
Primetime numbers for the same period were even more
disconcerting, as Headline News' 0.2 was outpaced by FNC's 0.6 and MSNBC's 0.4.
"We're not in a ratings panic," said Bob Furnad,
who took over two years ago as president of CNN Headline News, reporting to CNN News Group
CEO Tom Johnson. "I'm the new guy on the block, and I wanted to put my thumbprint on
Furnad pointed to the network's increase from 66 million to
70 million domestic subscribers over his two-year reign as evidence. The channel is also
accessible in 600,000 hotel rooms across the country.
The new changes will bow tomorrow (June 15) at 6 p.m. at
the National Show in Chicago.
The changes for the network are the culmination of one year
of research spearheaded by Furnad, a Peabody Award winner who has been at the production
helm of many of Cable News Network's touchstone news stories over the years, including
coverage of the Gulf War, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the Challenger
The research has led to the identification of the 25- to
54-year-old, high-income target audience as "time optimizers" -- news consumers
increasingly pressed for time who use the remote control as a screening mechanism.
"Time optimizers customize their news with the
clicker," Furnad explained. "Our strategy is to blunt this habit, where we
create an anti-flow by mixing genres. There will be no back-to-back stories of the same
genre." For instance, you will not see two international news stories in a row.
Furnad also said each 30-minute telecast will be compressed
to accommodate more, shorter stories. He went on to say that the 12-minute breaking-news
wells at the beginning of each half-hour wheel would not be repeated during later
The only exceptions will be for breaking news of a
monumental nature. "If Wolf Blitzer breaks something big and impactful, we'll run it
again," Furnad said. Softer segments on sports and lifestyles will continue to be
reprised throughout the day.
Reaction from cable operators was guarded. "The
question is: Are these changes broad enough to make an impact?" asked one MSO
executive who declined to be identified.
The initiative will be supported by a new ad campaign,
developed by New York ad boutique DiNoto/Lee, which marks Headline News' first off-network
effort. Furnad declined to divulge the ad budget for the campaign.
It will break initially in the test markets of Charlotte,
N.C., and Columbus, Ohio, with a national rollout anticipated in September.
The campaign -- which takes an offbeat, humorous approach
-- sports the tag line, "Get-to-the-Point News," to communicate the efficiency
of the network's news-reporting approach.