When “The Hunt,” the CNN series hosted by popular crimestopper John Walsh, launches its third season on CNN on June 19, it will be simulcast on HLN – as will every subsequent original episode of the series. HLN will also start to rely in part on some of the original series and projects that have run on CNN in previous years, even as executives at the Time Warner-owned outlets begin to devise new, original programming for HLN.
“One of the main things we are doing is refocusing the network on its news roots,” said Ken Jautz, executive vice president of CNN, who oversees HLN operations. “We do not believe there will be any cannibalization, but a substantial increase in cumulative reach,” he said in an interview.
Once known for thirty-minute newscasts that touched upon everything from breaking news to pop culture, HLN had in the last decade fared well by offering a diet of court coverage in the daytime and showbiz tidbits, Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew in the evenings. In 2013 and 2014, the network went through a significant programming shift, trying to align itself with the needs of younger viewers by sifting through social media and the latest trending topics. HLN tested everything from airing movies to ordering up a game series based on a concept from Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show.
Now the network is pursuing a more traditional bent: aligning itself more closely with CNN while recognizing it has a distinct audience all its own. HLN skews younger and more female than CNN, said Jautz, and there is little overlap in the areas of the nation where HLN and CNN have strongest appeal.
Time Warner has reason to focus more intently on HLN. Not too long ago, the network was seen as a way to form an alliance with Vice Media, the upstart company that has found great success in capturing the attention of younger consumers with “immersionist” documentary series focused on emerging cultures and hard-to-reach places. The parent company typically sells HLN to distributors in tandem with CNN, according to data from market-research firm SNL Kagan, so does not always generate distribution revenue from the network. Upgrading the programming could serve to boost ratings, and, subsequently, ad revenue.
Starting Friday, June 10, HLN will launch a three-hour “HLN Spotlight” block that will feature some of the original series that aired previously on CNN. HLN will, for example, use the block to showcase previous seasons of “The Hunt” leading up to its third-season debut on both networks. HLN can also run other CNN series that tie in to events, such as “Finding Jesus,” a six-episode documentary series that has typically run in the weeks leading up to Easter. Due to its heavy coverage of the race for U.S. President, said Jautz, CNN did not have the leeway to air the series this year. But HLN did.
Over time, HLN will also have its own programming, some of which could appear in that Friday block. A team of development executives supervised by Amy Entelis, CNN’s executive vice president for talent and content, are working on commissioning programs and building original concepts for the network. “We will build on some of the things we know that work. We are interested in strong storytelling, great characters, We want to do some of it around talent the way we’ve done it on CNN” she said, adding: “This is a long process and you don’t go out there with a lot of shows at one time. You have to do it in a careful way.”
HLN will also move to expand its live daytime programming, Jautz said. He cites the decision to have both networks run morning-news programs, each with its own distinctions. CNN’s “New Day” has, like many CNN programs, focused heavily on politics and the race for U.S. President, while HLN’s long-running “Morning Express with Robin Meade” features a broader survey of daily headlines.
HLN will launch a new morning-news program hosted by Michaela Pereira on July 11 that will follow Meade’s show. Both shows broadcast from outside New York City – Meade’s from Atlanta and Pereira from Los Angeles – lending HLN more distinction during the time slot, Jautz said. “We would like to expand our live programming,” he added.
HLN’s previous focus on social-media trendlets, however, is likely to continue to fade. “Every show has a social media presence,” Jautz said. “But we are focusing more on the traditional network.”