“Real news. Real fast” is the new mantra of CNN Headline News, which today unveils a radical make-over designed to liven up the 2-decades-old channel that Ted Turner built, which hasn’t lived up to its promise lately.
Half-hour news summaries are giving way to 15-minute blocks of news that now also include reports on health, technology, the environment and culture. The channel, whose average prime-time audience this year is 179,000 viewers, compared to 246,000 five years ago, will have a few of its own reporters instead of recycling reports from the main CNN network. Nine hours a day, the anchors will be live, instead of taped. Eventually, when enough staff is hired, the channel will be live 18 hours daily.
The news, meant for what CNN calls “time warriors” who can absorb a lot of information at once (viewers currently watch Headline News for an average of 12 minutes), will also be delivered by a new set of anchors, including former “NYPD Blue” star-turned-rookie newscaster Andrea Thompson. Still, finding them on screen may be tough: They will be surrounded by scrolling headlines and news facts, and a bottom half of the screen that includes weather, financial markets and sports scores.
Teya Ryan, the channel’s general manager, says the information-crammed screen with something for everyone “is to some degree the way people are using the Web.” Although Headline News already has younger viewers on average than CNN or Fox News Channel, Ryan hopes the new look will appeal to even younger viewers without alienating older ones. “We’re trying to do everything we can to keep them,” she says.
The new format doesn’t come cheap--Ryan calls the investment “significant"--but executives hope CNN itself will also benefit, as viewers are directed back and forth between the channels, allowing CNN to stay with major stories, coverage of extended events and its roster of talk shows.