HLN Recasts Itself As Curator Of Trending Stories, Videos To Attract Social-Media Users

Will Time Warner cabler's new focus on social-media content offer recipe for growth?

HLN, known best, perhaps, for its gavel-to-gavel coverage of court cases with tabloid overtones, brought the hammer down on its current programming stance and said it would instead spend 2014 transforming itself into a TV network for viewers born between 1977 and 1992.

While the Time Warner-owned network will keep its best known programs – “Morning Express with Robin Meade, which airs between 6 a.m. and noon, eastern; “News Now,” which airs from noon to 5 p.m.; “Jane Velez-Mitchell,” on from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.; “Nancy Grace,” on from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.; and “Dr. Drew On Call,” from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. – it said all would incorporate  more social media chatter. The network intends to “curate the news from across all platform,” according to a statement released Monday. “HLN will make it its mission to share the trending news, viral events and stories that have viewers most obsessed, plus discover emerging social stars.”

The network has acquired a customized version of the syndicated program, “RightThisMinute,” which will debut after “Dr. Drew” at 10 p.m. eastern starting today. the show is devoted to finding interesting web videos and the stories behind their creation, and hopes to do so before they go viral.  “RightThisMinute is produced by MagicDust Television and syndicated by MGM Domestic Television Distribution.

HLN’s rewrite will likely drum up attention, particularly as the audience for traditional TV news continues to age and even grow outside the confines of the demographic most favored by advertisers in news programming, people between the ages of 25 and 54. But the network may find itself fighting to grow beyond the audience already there. Last week, Twitter’s stock slumped as the social-media network revealed its fourth straight quarter of declining growth in new users. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that four out of five U.S. consumers with Internet connections do not use the service. Facebook has also seen growth slow in recent months.

HLN said additional programming genres fitting its “social media filter” which could include “animation, reality, gaming and clip shows,” will debut throughout the year, along with a new look for the network on air and new hosts.

The shift in programming has been expected for months, since Jeff Zucker,  president of HLN parent CNN Worldwide, hired former Viacom entertainment exec Albie Hecht to lead the network in a new direction. Once known as CNN Headline News, HLN has fared well offering a diet of court coverage in the daytime and showbiz tidibts and Nancy Grace in the evenings. According to Nielsen, HLN was the only of the four major cable-news outlets – CNN, MSNBC and Fox News among them – to grow its audience in 2013 when compared to 2012. In total day, HLN increased viewership 22% among total viewers, and 18% among people between 25 and 54. In primtime, the network saw its total viewership increase 22% in 2013 and its 25-54 viewership rise 18%, according to Nielsen.

Even so, the network has the smallest audience of the four networks, and Hecht was hired with a mandate to find a more successful mission for HLN to charter. Since coming aboard, Hecht has canceled many of the network’s programs, including the long-running “Showbiz Tonight,” and enlisted several programming execs from his Viacom days to help steer the ship.

In a nod to the network’s new social-media focus, HLN provided the digital news site BuzzFeed an early look at its plans, while Hecht burnished his Twitter feed, @AlbieHechtHLN, in the network’s announcement.

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