Hecht's TNN Aims to Super-Serve Men

Suddenly, men are hot. Cable programmers ranging from giant MTV Networks to a handful of independents are planning to craft networks targeted to the male gender.

Last week, in a major and surprising switch in strategy, MTVN revealed that it would be the first out of the gate by transforming TNN: The National Network into what it described as "the country's first entertainment network for men."

While there are three basic-cable networks targeted to women — Lifetime Television, Oxygen and WE: Women's Entertainment — there are no such services for men, and Viacom Inc.'s MTVN sees a void to be filled.

TNN, with an audience that's 66 percent male, plans to super-serve men with original programming from a broad array of genres, including animation, video games, men's health, finance and reality programming.

"Just the way Lifetime has delivered for women, we can create a place for men," said Albie Hecht, who last week was promoted and named TNN's president. "We're going to create one place where a guy can get all of his needs served, [creating] an emotional connection, the same way that Nick was emotionally connected to kids and became their home base."

Robina's out

In a shake-up last week, Hecht replaced Diane Robina, who had been general manager of TNN, which now goes by the moniker "The New TNN." She will remain at MTVN in a yet-to-be-determined capacity.

Several independents have efforts underfoot to create cable networks that strictly target men. A group of ex-Showtime executives, for example, is looking to launch the Maverick Entertainment Network, MEN, early next year.

magazine has also been trying to develop a MEN — namely Maxim Entertainment Network. And Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. studied doing a men's network based on Details

Certainly, TNN has a huge edge in creating a men's network by virtue of its deep-pocketed ownership, distribution and library of male-skewing fare like Star Trek
and World Wrestling Entertainment.

"We already have a male skew, which is why this makes a very sensible evolution for us," Hecht said "We're not light-switching from some crazy position to this … We're an 86-million subscriber service, so we start off from a base of enormous reach over anybody else."

Hecht, who joined MTVN in 1993, has most recently presided over the Nickelodeon Animation Studios, bringing hits like SpongeBob SquarePants
to Nick. He is also head of Nickelodeon Movies, with the overall title of president of film and TV entertainment.

During the past two years, Robina has overseen TNN's first transition, from the regional country-music service The Nashville Network to TNN: The National Network, a general-entertainment network with a pop-culture spin. TNN came under MTVN's wing when CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc. merged.

Most recently, MTVN has just been calling the channel "The New TNN," dropping the tag line "The National Network." While Hecht said that initial strategy succeeded in lowering TNN's median age to 36 from 55, others argue that TNN didn't create a real brand as a broad-based entertainment channel.

No frat boys

"They flopped around with some original reality shows," said Tim Brooks, Lifetime's senior vice president of research and a TV historian.

With the new strategy at TNN, Brooks said: "They have to figure out which sensibility they're aiming for. They really have to put a point on what they mean by 'male.' But it doesn't sound like they want to go for the frat-boy males that FX or Comedy Central went for."

Hecht — who said TNN has talked to Maxim
about just collaborating on programming — will introduce a new 2003 development and production slate for TNN in the next few weeks, a lineup aimed at men aged 18 to 49.

Steve Severn, a spokesman for Maverick's MEN, said his group is still targeting a launch next year.

"We anticipated from the beginning that other groups were studying the market viability of a network aimed at the male demographic and have fully expected there would be competition for this audience," Severn said. "We remain confident that our vision will deliver a unique and very differentiated brand of television capable of standing on its own. Obviously, the TNN announcement continues to validate what we are attempting to accomplish."

Meanwhile, MSOs are taking a wait-and-see attitude about TNN's new for-men positioning.

"We applaud positive changes in programming that will attract viewers, but also hope that all networks remain true to the content commitments they made in their carriage agreements, because that is how we assure the greatest choice for our customers," a Time Warner Cable spokesman said.

Ratings are down

Last year, TNN posted a 0.9 household rating in primetime, down 10 percent from its 1.0 in 2001, according to Nielsen Media Research. For total day, TNN's ratings dropped 20 percent, to a 0.4 from a 0.5. But it improved its performance with younger demographics.

This year, TNN will roll out an original animation block, which will include Stripperella,
starring Pamela Anderson; Gary the Rat,
starring Kelsey Grammer; and the return of the series Ren & Stimpy,
featuring new episodes.

That block has the tone TNN wants in general —"smart, sexy, irreverent, adventure, bad-boy," Hecht said.

He will report to Herb Scannell, president of Nick, TV Land and TNN. Hecht will continue to oversee Nick Movies.