Headline News fixes the fix

Sometimes, a year isn't long enough. After its ballyhooed relaunch last August, CNN's Headline News looks flashier and skews a little younger, but its household ratings remain small. So the CNN spin-off will celebrate its Aug. 6 rebirth day with a slightly newer look, to be unveiled Aug. 4.

The box in the upper right of the screen where the anchors speak and the video rolls will be 14% larger. Content of the graphics on the left and bottom will be remixed (less weather, more general and financial news). Irreverent factoids, which disappeared for a while, will return. And, over the next two months, the majority of dayparts will be live; currently, 12 hours on weekdays are live.

"The short, small screen [for anchors and video] was not working for anybody, and, as a result, some other elements weren't working," said Headline News Executive Vice President and General Manager Rolando Santos, former head of CNN en Español. "This is not 'We messed up and have to fix it.' The basic information and style of writing are working well."

The Aug. 6, 2001, relaunch didn't energize Headline News' household ratings. The network is recording the same 0.2 rating it did before. (The new look has averaged a 0.3 partly because of heavy viewership in the months immediately after 9/11.)

"They are in more homes than Fox News and MSNBC, but it's not personality-driven or longer-form programming," said Horizon Media's head of research Brad Adgate. "You go in for news, and you go out."

Headline's audience may be small, but CNN execs say its demographics are encouraging. Delivery to the 18-34 demo is up 62%, to 18-49 up 69%. With news viewing surging since Sept. 11, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC have seen similar gains.

The goal of the relaunch "was to put our arms around a younger demo," says former chief Teya Ryan, who crafted the new design before taking over as CNN general manager in February.

"It takes a while to turn a ship around," says media buyer Tom DeCabia, executive vice president, AdvanswersNY. "Headline News is never going to be a blockbuster must-buy, but it's a good, solid performer."

It lands on many media plans, in part because it's sold in tandem with CNN.

Headline News, created in 1982 and now seen in 82.5 million homes, relaunched with a flashier look, a faster pace and more live feeds. Viewer reaction has been mixed. TV critics roasted it.

Whereas CNN is sometimes poked for being staid, Headline News tries to be a little quirky. A recent July day featured a host of Harley Davidson motorcycle stories, and Aug. 8 is dedicated to magicians.

After cult-favorite anchor Lynn Russell stepped down in May 2001, Headline News hired former NYPD Blue
star Andrea Thompson, whose only journalism experience was a brief stint in local news in New Mexico. The network weathered a flurry of criticism over her plum prime time anchor slot, which she occupied 'til March.