Why Huge Cable Networks Like HLN Are Failing within the Streaming Period

Viewers have turned to the cable community HLN over time for a quick-hit model of its sister, CNN; for protection of courtroom circumstances; for Robin Meade’s long-running morning information reveals; and for a bevy of true-crime packages, together with Nancy Grace’s primetime discuss present and repeats of “Forensic Recordsdata.” What it will likely be acknowledged for over the months to come back is anyone’s guess.

CNN — and, by proxy, its company mum or dad, Warner Bros. Discovery — almost gutted the cable outlet Thursday by canceling Meade’s “Morning Specific,” which has been on the air in some kind or one other since 2001. The corporate additionally declared that it could not produce new stay programming for the community and that Kathleen Finch , not CNN chief Chris Licht, would take over the true-crime reveals, which might be made a part of one other cable outlet, ID, identified for related stuff. Meade is to get replaced by a simulcast of CNN’s morning packages.

Meade “is just not solely an exceptionally common anchor, but in addition one of many longest-running morning hosts in historical past,” stated Licht, in a memo to employees final week. “I do know the HLN viewers will miss her and the opposite HLN abilities.” Meade signed off December 5, telling viewers in an attenuated one-hour model of her present that “price range cuts” and “a altering trade” meant her present was being taken off the air,

Licht made no remark about why the corporate didn’t construct a enterprise round a well-liked anchor, however the truth of the matter is that HLN has been in decline for a while. And the media world faces many different issues like that. NBCUniversal, Paramount World and Walt Disney collectively personal dozens of underperforming cable networks which might be rapidly dropping relevance within the age of streaming.

Such properties vary from Warner’s American Heroes Channel to Paramount’s MTV2. Solely NBCU has taken on the issue aggressively, shutting down in recent times every little thing from Esquire to Chiller to NBC Sports activities Community. Even the larger cable networks are in peril of falling. Simply try the majority of the schedule of Comedy Central, which this month bids farewell to the present host of “The Each day Present.” The community’s grid is essentially full of repeats of “The Workplace” and “Seinfeld.”

Cable and satellite tv for pc distributors misplaced roughly 655,000 subscribers within the third quarter, in accordance with a current evaluation from media-research agency Moffett Nathanson. The numbers symbolize “the biggest third quarter loss ever; final yr’s loss was, by our estimate, 617K, and the yr earlier than it was simply 91K.”

These declines take away a very good chunk of help for large cable retailers. As extra individuals who as soon as subscribed to cable flip to streaming options, media firms “are going to need to make exhausting choices about whether or not conserving these networks lit up is sensible,” says John Harrison, chief of the Americas media and leisure follow at EY.

In a distinct period, those self same networks flourished. HLN launched as “CNN2” in 1982, providing half-hour rundowns — identified internally as “wheels” — of prime tales but in addition delved into enterprise, popular culture and sports activities. It was seen as a complement to the primary community, and had its personal crew of anchors. By the mid-2000s, it even had its personal primetime block of discuss reveals and performed an enormous half in launching each Grace and Glenn Beck. However the unique format was exhibiting indicators of pressure. “We had been already seeing that the utility of a wheel was declining” within the 2000s, says Scot Safon, a CNN government who oversaw HLN on the apex of its courtroom protection between 2010 and 2013. “The numbers had been happening.”

Little surprise that in 2014, the previous Time Warner mulled turning HLN over to programmers from Vice Media.

Executives at CNN have tried many methods aimed toward conserving the community related, whereas not stepping on the flagship model. Underneath former chief Jeff Zucker, HLN tilted towards millennials, making an attempt to cowl viral movies and trending subjects and even featured film nights and mulled a game-show idea developed by Ellen DeGeneres. Subsequent the community tried a brand new set of discuss reveals. Solely Meade’s program prevailed. In recent times, CNN has produced unique true-crime serials for HLN, with the hope that lots of them might additionally fare nicely on streaming venues.

The numbers have not improved. HLN is projected to wrap 2022 with a 7% dip in subscribers, in accordance with Kagan , a market-research agency that’s a part of S&P World Intelligence. Estimates name for HLN to see advert {dollars} and working income every fall 4%. What’s extra, cable and satellite tv for pc operators do not pay additional charges for HLN. They get the community for a similar cash they earmark for CNN, one thing insiders say is likened to “a present with buy.” Warner Bros. Discovery might have little alternative however to contemplate the outlet a goal for value financial savings.

Cable is prone to have a tricky time regaining momentum. Shoppers are usually not solely transferring cash into streaming subscriptions, however they’ve began to look at a dizzying array of latest so-called “FAST” channels that use stuff from outdated programming libraries to create binge-watching alternatives round western films or repeats of MTV’s “The Actual World.”

If media firms are going to maintain pulling unique content material off cable, customers are prone to notice they’ll get outdated stuff through FAST without spending a dime and conserving slicing the wire. “These massive media firms have dozens of linear channels that must be fed, and there merely is not sufficient viability to maintain feeding them when most straight related content material is sort of a click on and a stream away,” says Tim Hanlon, CEO of Vertere Groupe, a advisor to media and promoting firms.

HLN might not fade away instantly. David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, has develop into identified for “flipping” his cable holdings. If one idea does not work, possibly one other will. That is how a cable community as soon as often called Planet Inexperienced grew to become the Oprah Winfrey Community, and the way DIY, a cable outlet devoted to tutorial programming on repairs and enchancment, was just lately turned over to programming from home-arts gurus Chip and Joanna Gaines.

However the media firms will finally need to discover a technique to get rid of lackluster cable properties. Some are being propped up with extra sports activities telecasts. Others with devoted followings, like FX or TCM, are being reworked into curated hubs on streamers. Sooner or later, lots of the cable retailers will “develop into loss makers,” says EY’s Harrison. And the prognosis is not optimistic. “I believe it is completely attainable they die,” says Michael Smith, professor of data expertise and advertising and marketing at Carnegie Mellon College’s Heinz Faculty.

Maybe some indicators of HLN’s future have already surfaced. Throughout Thanksgiving, the community served as a vacation spot for a marathon of outdated episodes of “The West Wing,” a Warner Bros.-produced property. Or possibly the mum or dad firm has different concepts. The present type of the community, says Safon, “appears like an interim step.”

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