Q&A: CNBC President Mark Hoffman
Top Exec Unflinching as Fox Business Network Threat Looms
CNBC President Mark Hoffman does not sound like a man who has even a sliver of fear that his financial and business news channel could be in danger of being rendered roadkill by Fox Business Network. FBN, which launches Oct. 15, could race right up the middle of the road to the head of the pack, flattening CNBC the way Fox News Channel did CNN when the upstart challenged the pioneering cable news network 11 years ago.
After two years of double-digit growth, CNBC is bringing in an estimated $250 million a year in ad revenues. The audience for financial and business news may be small but it is very upscale.
The redesigned CNBC.com is growing, with more users spending more time than ever there in the third quarter, which has produced lots of positive talking points for the cable channel.
Nielsen Media Research data showed:
- Business-day viewing in the target 25-54 demo is up 32 percent year to year.
- Market-hours viewing is up 34 percent year to year, CNBC’s best third-quarter showing since 2000.
- In August and wild, wild September, CNBC had the highest median income among adults 25 to 54 for all cable networks during business day ($93,000) and total day. (Mendelsohn data, which covers out-of-home viewers that Nielsen doesn’t, shows viewers’ median household income of $159,000 in July.)
- In August, the 14 most affluent programs in cable news for total day among 25- to 54-year-old viewers were on CNBC, with viewers’ median net incomes ranging from $83,000 to $103,000.
Mr. Hoffman declined to talk about Fox Business Network last week, but he did talk to TelevisionWeek National Editor Michele Greppi about why he believes CNBC is ready for whatever the new competition brings.
TelevisionWeek: You’re coming off CNBC’s best business-day ratings quarter in five years. How does that feel?
Mark Hoffman: Any measurement that’s positive we obviously like. But we’re not hung up on Nielsen ratings. It’s not a measurement that focuses on the high end of the market. We have an extremely affluent audience, a very well-educated audience, and Nielsen’s sample is not geared specifically at that demographic.
TVWeek: There’s CNBC. There’s Bloomberg. There’s going to be Fox Business Network. Bloomberg and CNBC have competed for the high-end viewer. With the entrance of Fox onto the scene, does there ever become a competition for total viewers? Will the expanded competition still be all about the business, the market, the Wall Street viewer?
Mr. Hoffman: Let me tell you how we look at it. CNBC isn’t about Wall Street or Main Street. We’re about any street where people either have wealth or aspire to have wealth. We feel that cable works best when it’s narrow and deep. We’re very focused on an investor audience. We always frame that news and information with the biggest business stories, political stories of the day. We like that audience. What we do resonates very well with them, and we do not ever want to put that audience in jeopardy.
TVWeek: What do you mean when you say you “don’t ever want to put that audience in jeopardy”?
Mr. Hoffman: I don’t know that any cable network can be all things to all people. We’re very focused on people who have a lot of money and those who want a lot of money. That’s who we’re targeting. That’s who we’re programming for and that’s the group that CNBC really resonates with.
TVWeek: When you improve as dramatically as you have recently in your target demo, how quickly does that translate into higher advertising demand and revenues?
Mr. Hoffman: The Nielsen ratings are not at the center of that analysis. I can tell you this about sales: We will finish the upfront around 23 percent above a year ago. It’s not quite done. It might be a little bit higher than that. So what we’ve found is that we’re having really extraordinary success on the top line. We’re following up here on two years of double-digit advertising growth as we head into the next year.
TVWeek: Is the volatility of the market recently good for your business? Or is it extraneous to what you have been accomplishing?
Mr. Hoffman: We have a base of viewers that has continued to grow dramatically—and this is that out-of-home audience that we talk about. It’s trading floors and country clubs and fine restaurants and health clubs. When there’s events in the business world or in the markets that are substantial, we will see increases in Nielsen household ratings, but we have a consistent and growing out-of-home audience that is with us and continues to be with us. When there are dramatic events, everybody watches a little bit more.
TVWeek: So business is good.
Mr. Hoffman: Business is outstanding.
TVWeek: Does that mean there’s room enough for an expansion team in your business?
Mr. Hoffman: We’re confident about our position and about the future.
TVWeek: What does Oct. 15, the launch date for Fox Business Network, represent for CNBC, then?
Mr. Hoffman: It means we bring our A-game one more day. Like we do every day and have for years.
TVWeek: Over the last few months, CNBC has made graphics changes and programming changes. You locked down “America’s Business Channel,” which is a phrase many people think has a more Fox-like ring to it than CNBC-like. You’ve relaunched your Web site. You’ve rolled out some new platform services. How many of those moves were in anticipation of increased competition from Fox?
Mr. Hoffman: Not a single one.
TVWeek: I’m not saying I don’t believe you, but I don’t believe that all of this is in total disregard for a new competitor.
Mr. Hoffman: Let me address that question, then I’ll go back and address the previous question. We take all challenges seriously. The only point I’m making about bringing our A-game as we do every day is that we do have an organization that works very hard and is very focused every day and has been. We’re in the business of growing a business. All of the moves that have been made have been in the service of driving great content and driving revenue.
TVWeek: The most persistent challenge for CNBC has been in prime time. How hard is it to keep throwing spaghetti at the kitchen cabinet doors?
Mr. Hoffman: I think what you’ve seen in the last 2½ years is that we’ve taken a business network by day that was undefined at night and made it a much more vertical business network from sign on-to sign-off. You’ve seen that with the additions of “Fast Money,” “Mad Money.” You’ve seen that in the number of documentaries, the only business magazine show with “Business Nation,” and “The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch” that is now really about taking control of your life and getting a piece of the American dream. There’s nothing more business-focused than that. We’ve also, I think, broken through in very successful ways with some of our personal-finance programs, with “Suze Ormond,” with “The Millionaire Inside,” and I think we have taken all the steps that are required to make CNBC a much more vertical network. And while we’ve done that, we’ve taken low CPMs that came with entertainment fare and converted them to two and three times the CPMs with business fare.
TVWeek: You’ve still got “Deal or No Deal.” How much does that help in the lineup?
Mr. Hoffman: “Deal or No Deal” is a unique property. What I like about “Deal or No Deal” is that it’s about deals. And there’s briefcases in the show. What’s more business than that? I knew I could make you laugh.
TVWeek: How much emphasis are you placing on development of original programming?
Mr. Hoffman: We absolutely are. We have a number of programs that are in development now that are in the pilot stage. We have increased our amount of long-form programming, our documentaries, the magazine program “Business Nation.” The hourlong program called “American Greed.” We’ve had great success with profiles of McDonald’s and eBay and Walmart. We are continuing to invest significantly in those properties.
TVWeek: Now to tussles [with Fox Business Network] over talent. Do you feel at this point that you have secured the people you want to have secured?
Mr. Hoffman: We feel great about our team and are confident about the future.