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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
CNN sets sights on young
By the BBC's Tom Brook in New York

In a bold effort to bring in young viewers CNN has revamped its Headline News network injecting some pop culture pizzazz into its journalism.

The music of Fatboy Slim and Moby has been used to promote the re-styled service.

Andrea Thompson, an anchorwoman best known as the actress who played Detective Jill Kirkendall in NYPD Blue, has been brought on board as a star news anchor.

These changes only affect CNN Headline News, essentially a cable TV news briefing service, seen within the US.

But this effort by CNN to court a younger audience is being closely watched by its competitors.


They've made it look tacky and busy

Erik Mink, New York Daily News
TV news operations across America are under increasing pressure to deliver young audiences coveted by advertisers.

News networks face a tough challenge because the typical news viewer is growing older.

CNN is not alone in the industry when it finds that the median age of people who tune in to its main network is 64.

It's also become much harder to reach young people because there are now so many competing alternatives to the traditional news broadcast.

'Time warriors'

The Headline News revamp is most noticeable on the screen which, in a typical broadcast, is packed with images and data.

The news presenter is often relegated to a quadrant in the upper right hand corner. The remainder of the screen has text detailing the weather, sport and financial news, plus other tidbits.

Teya Ryan, general manager of CNN Headline News, knows she is catering to an information-saturated audience.

She is providing viewers with "all the news you need" and says the changes CNN has made just acknowledge that "our audience can now absorb more information at any given time".

Andrea Thompson
Anchorwoman Thompson acted in NYPD BLue
She describes the target demographic as "time warriors". These are busy young adults constantly on the movie juggling career, family and leisure pursuits, who want to digest their news as quickly as possible.

CNN has also made more subtle changes to increase the appeal of its relaunched network among Generation X and young baby boomers.

In addition to short, snappy news reports there are plenty of softer entertainment, lifestyle and technology stories.

Protests

Music, from techno-pop to African percussion, is also being used to highlight news delivered by more user-friendly presenters.

The decision to hire former NYPD Blue star Andrea Thompson as a news anchor drew howls of protests when it was first announced.

Although Thompson has spent several months working as a TV news reporter in New Mexico she is hardly a seasoned journalist.

She is best known as an actress, and it didn't help matters when pictures of her posing nude in an art film from several years ago surfaced on the Internet.

News traditionalists have charged that CNN is cashing in on Thompson's TV celebrity and undermining its journalism. Ryan is quick to defend Thompson describing her as "a terrific young journalist" and "a fabulous communicator".

CNN's experiment with Headline News has been lambasted by many of America's tv critics.

Website

The consensus is that the revamp is a bit of a gimmick and that there is too much information on the screen.

Erik Mink, TV critic for the New York Daily News says: "They've redone the graphics, they've redone the personalities and they've made it look tacky and busy."

Even though the new Headline News format has been derided, CNN could be setting a signpost for the future of electronic news.

It's no accident that the Headline News screen format resembles a website. Many think the computer and TV screen will inevitably merge and CNN may be positioning itself to deliver news for the future.

More immediately Teya Ryan says: "Certainly we have set the stage for interactive TV."

The CNN relaunch has not yet had a major impact on ratings; it's still too early to determine its fate.

But if the Headline News format succeeds it will be rapidly imitated because TV news organisations everywhere are searching for a magical solution that will bring in that young audience so vital to their survival.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Gregory
"The world of internet media may be about to go through similar pain"
See also:

18 Jan 01 | Business
CNN to axe 400 jobs
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