Hiring Of Albie Hecht Portends Big Changes At HLN

By Alex Weprin 

With the addition of TV creative executive Albie Hecht this week, CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker is sending a message: changes will be coming to CNN’s sister channel.

Unlike CNN, which has a clear news brand, HLN has never really had an identity. It launched as a place where people could tune in and always get the latest news, even when CNN was covering politics or speeches, or was airing a documentary. More recently, HLN has shifted to become something of a new Court TV, covering trials all day long, and analyzing them by night.

Last month, HLN announced that it would be adding health, wellness and cooking shows to its lineup. In other words, HLN is clearly shifting.

Hecht is the guy Zucker wants leading that shift. A well-known executive, Hecht became known as a skilled brander at MTV Networks, where he successfully turned The Nashville Network into Spike TV, and ran Nickelodeon when it was at a crossroads, developing and overseeing “Blue’s Clues,” “Dora the Explorer” and the juggernaut that is “Spongebob Squarepants.”

At his production company, Worldwide Biggies, he led the production of TV shows like “The Naked Brothers Band” and live events like the Spike TV Video Game Awards.

The big question is what Hecht and Zucker’s grand vision is for HLN. A little (but well connected) birdy at a cable entertainment network suggests that HLN’s future is as a nonfiction lifestyle network for women, akin to OWN. Food shows and health and wellness programs would fit in to that genre. So would some courtroom programs, which skew heavily female.

In other words, a cable channel that looks more like the later hours of “Good Morning America” and “Today,” rather than their newsy first hours.

Don’t expect any big changes overnight, but don’t be surprised if this time next year HLN has a decidedly different look to it.

There is also another unique aspect to HLN, something that is both challenging and beneficial to the company. Stemming from its Headline News days, HLN is bundled with CNN in cable carriage agreements. Whereas Fox Business and Fox News are sold to operators separately, and CNBC and MSNBC are as well (though they may give a discount for carrying both channels), HLN and CNN are sold as one unit.

The bad news is that it means CNN has harder time maximizing cable carriage fees than it would if it sold them separately, but it is good news in that HLN has tremendous distribution, distribution that a Fusion or Al Jazeera America would kill for. Right now HLN has middling ratings, but if it were to improve even slightly, and draw some female-central advertisers that may not normally advertise on cable news, it would be a valuable addition to Turner’s channel lineup.