CNN Headline News made some news of its own last week when
its president, Bob Furnad, acknowledged that significant changes are being planned this
spring for the 16-year-old Cable News Network spinoff.
Furnad said Headline News has slated its first major revamp
for late April. The redesign plans are two-pronged, he added, with one part being its
on-air set and graphics look, and the other its off-channel image marketing campaign.
These fixes mark the first major ones under Furnad,
Headline News' president for just over a year. Indeed, he said, the network has
"made only tweaks since its January 1982 launch."
He denied reports that the network was making the changes
in response to MSO switch-outs and falling ratings, saying, "We've turned the
corner" on ratings problems. Nielsen Media Research reports, however, showed that
Headline News has lost audience in the third quarter, while its rivals have boomed, under
a barrage of Monica Lewinsky coverage.
Furnad, a former executive vice president and senior
executive producer at CNN, said, "We're not changing formats" -- unless one
counts a recent slight expansion of the "Top Stories" segment of its half-hour
news wheel. Headline News is adding an extended weather forecast and trimming the
"Dollars & Sense" part of the news wheel. The biggest change so far is less
repetition of stories throughout the day, he added.
Given its headline mission, the network can't produce
signature series like CNN's current Cold War -- and it wouldn't. "I
don't think that's us," he said.
Construction on a new $3.7 million digital production
facility began in Atlanta in mid-October, forcing staffers to work out of temporary
quarters. There will be new studios and a new newsroom, with the control rooms switching
to digital in December and the rest of the operations in April.
Headline News is adding "modern, sleeker"
graphics, and it will clean up the ticker of news, sports scores and stock quotes that
runs across the bottom of the screen. The network will also add a side panel tipping off
viewers as to what the next two stories will be.
The network will launch a marketing campaign in 10 markets
this spring around three different ad campaigns.
Furnad maintained that MSOs are not looking to replace the
veteran network with a newer one perceived as having more growth potential, adding that in
any case, most of its MSO renewals aren't until 2001 and 2002.
As far as ratings, he said the numbers show him that that
viewers still gravitate to Headline News to get a recap of the big news of the day.
While he conceded that Headline News has suffered ratings
slippage dating back to 1996, Furnad insisted that the network's ratings are
The most recent Nielsen ratings showed continued slippage.
In the third quarter, every news service except Headline News picked up ratings and
households. The network's total-day rating slipped from 0.3 to 0.2, and its household
delivery fell by 9 percent, to 160,000 homes, according to TBS Research's analysis of
In primetime, Headline News remained steady at 0.3, while
its household delivery fell by 5 percent, to 192,000 homes.
In the most recent ratings period, for the week of Oct. 12,
all of the news networks faltered, as the public may have tired of the continued Monica