Friday, August 3, 2001
Atlanta Headline News, which started nearly two decades ago as CNN's stepchild, has always branded itself as a place for quick, one-stop information shopping: news, weather, business, sports ï¿½ all in one place, all in a half-hour package.
Now the network wants you to get it all even faster.
The cable channel relaunches at 5 a.m. CDT Monday as a quick-changing screen crammed with factoids, stock prices, weather maps, headlines and the news anchors, who will occupy about one-quarter of the picture.
Headline News chief Teya Ryan says the rebirth is designed for "time warriors" ï¿½ busy Americans who want their news at a glance and don't have time to sit for a half-hour.
"You can't be getting your kids ready for school in the morning and trying to get yourself ready and log on to the Internet and look at your news," she said. "You need to see it in quick steps."
In some ways, the network has nowhere to go but up.
Its second-quarter Nielsen ratings reflected about 140,000 viewers on an average night in prime time, compared to 1.5 million for cable leader Lifetime.
Headline News sees itself as without any true competition. MSNBC, Fox News Channel and parent CNN are more in-depth news networks, and other information networks are specialized, like CNBC and ESPN.
"They're the only ones left doing straight news reporting," said Allison Romano, who covers cable programming for Broadcasting & Cable, an industry paper. "The other cable news networks have gotten more personality-oriented, programmed by shows rather than the news."
As many as six anchors will be on the network's new set, tossing to one another in a Tilt-A-Whirl of a newscast billed as "Real News, Real Fast."
The main prime-time anchor team will include former "NYPD Blue" actress Andrea Thompson and former CNN correspondent Miles O'Brien.
Ryan insists the other anchors, who will face outward from a big, circular desk, will be working journalists, using their time off camera to work the phones and develop stories.
Alisha Davis, a former arts and fashion writer for Newsweek magazine, will anchor entertainment segments in prime time. Michele Mitchell, a former editorial writer for The New York Times, will cover politics.
And in a new approach, Headline News will use a separate "just-in" anchor for breaking news stories.
The rebirth is the brainchild of Ryan, the network's executive vice president and general manager, who took over Headline News as part of a reorganization of the CNN networks in January.
The most noticeable change is the jam-packed screen, an idea Ryan says was inspired by the year she spent running CNNfn. Business news networks, with their signature tickers and colorful arrows, have long known that viewers can handle large amounts of information at one time, she said.
Still, critics say the format might overload viewers unable to focus their attention in the blizzard of information being fired at them ï¿½ possibly older viewers who are least used to fast-paced, MTV-style television.
"I think they're going for someone younger ï¿½ younger, hipper, edgier," Romano said.