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Markets Convulse, Cable News Wins

Sep 21, 2008  •  Post A Comment

It will be a while before all the winners and losers created by Wall Street’s wild ride last week are identified, but the cable networks that cover financial and business news in real time already are looking like winners.
Audiences swelled, financial firms didn’t pull advertising and the cable networks broke news ahead of other media as the stock market plummeted early in the week and then soared Thursday and Friday.
CNBC posted the biggest ratings spike among cable networks, up 70% for total-day in total viewers over the first three days of last week. For its business-day block of 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., CNBC averaged around half a million viewers, nearly double the audience it usually draws on less dramatic days.
By the time Thursday’s total viewer numbers came in late Friday at 503,000, the business-day programming had racked up its best week ever.
CNBC’s direct competitors in the financial and business news category, Bloomberg TV and the 11-month-old Fox Business Network, do not get ratings they can publish from Nielsen Media Research.
On CNBC, show records were set by “Squawk Box” (365,000 total viewers Tuesday), “Closing Bell” (696,000 viewers Wednesday), “Fast Money” (617,000 viewers Wednesday) and “Mad Money With Jim Cramer” (518,000 Wednesday).
“That’s still only the tip of the iceberg,” CNBC President Mark Hoffmann said, with his familiar reminder that Nielsen does not measure out-of-home viewing, in places like trading floors, Wall Street offices, country clubs and other venues where the cable network is likely to be seen.
Mr. Hoffmann took CNBC’s ratings as a confirmation that his team had performed up to the channel’s slogan of being “fast, accurate, actionable and unbiased.”
He said internal data showed that page views on CNBC.com had mushroomed exponentially to 15 million per day last week.
At Fox Business Network, there was hope that “anecdotal” signs of increased viewership would prove to be a harbinger of audience to come.
“These are the events that, if you do a good job, people find you,” FBN Executive VP Kevin Magee said. “That’s the business position we’re in at the moment: We need to be found. We think that if they found us this week, we did a job that will make them come back next week when maybe the roller-coaster ride isn’t quite so bumpy.”
Visitors
Mr. Magee’s talent carried the FBN banner off campus by making appearances on other shows: Executive and early-morning anchor Alexis Glick explained it all to the women of “The View” on ABC in midweek, and Liz Claman, a longtime CNBC star who jumped to Fox after it debuted on Oct. 15, 2007, made two appearances last week on CBS’ “The Early Show.”
CNBC’s talent was seen regularly on sister outlets, including MSNBC. Brian Williams crossed the Hudson River to anchor “NBC Nightly News” from CNBC’s New Jersey headquarters, and NBC-affiliated local stations made extensive use of CNBC footage, Mr. Hoffmann said.
“Mad Money’s” flamboyant Mr. Cramer was interviewed midweek on ABC’s “Nightline.”
Maria Bartiromo, long the face of CNBC, played straight woman to Stephen Colbert on his cable-news-inspired Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report” Thursday night.
The night before, on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart marveled at how CNBC had had to expand to an “octobox” screen to accommodate all of the financially attuned talking heads on the network’s “Power Lunch.”
Equal, Opposite Reaction
Last week’s bear market, much of it driven by speculation, produced a bull market in instant reactions, opinions and conjecture.
CNBC, Bloomberg and FBN executives said their use of differing points of view did not cross the line between covering the fast-morphing story and contributing to market panic.
“You’re a news service on television, and you are capturing the news as it happens. Obviously there was a lot of breaking news,” said John Meehan, managing editor of Bloomberg TV U.S. “Yes, it was a unique event in terms of news, but policy or the way we approach financial or business journalism remains the same. We are always very skeptical. We do not repeat rumor and speculation. We’re really more fact-based than anything else.”
FBN’s Mr. Magee said it was clear to him, as less market-savvy pals asked him how the Dow was doing, that there was a hunger for information about what was happening.
“With this kind of television, people’s opinions are often part of it,” Mr. Magee said. “I would hope that we put it in perspective. If you lay it out for the viewer, to a great extent it’s our old friend, ‘We report. You decide.’ I think that’s a lot of what we’ve been doing this week.”
Mr. Hoffmann said there was not one second of thought given to reducing the amount of opinion on CNBC by taking, say, Mr. Cramer’s “Mad Money” off at any point last week. Indeed, the pundit’s visibility was heightened by appearances throughout CNBC’s day and appearances on “NBC Nightly News.”
“He is a character, yes, but he is a brilliant guy and understands to a depth what has gone on and what will continue to go on,” Mr. Hoffman said. “Jim Cramer has in many ways been almost too far in front of this story. His depth of understanding, his various calls to action have been spot-on for a year.”
Mr. Hoffman said clarity would not be achieved by offering less opinion.
“It’s all about balance, about qualitative debate in a balanced way,” he said. “We were, we are and we will continue to be absolutely upfront and honest about where the reporting begins or ends and where the analysis or opinion begins or ends.”

10 Comments

  1. CNBC is perfectly positioned for the voracious (and probably short-lived…hopefully) interest in the financial world. They have established stars who are household names like Cramer and Bartiromo. And Erin Burnett was very impressive to me on Meet the Press, easily holding her own with a group of distinguished economists. The fact she worked at as an i-banker at Goldman along with an undergraduate degree in political economics only helps her make a forceful case.
    My suggestion…put together an accessible overview CNBC show or two for the general viewer and advertise them on NBC and MSNBC…bet you’ll attract a lot of viewers if the timing, the message and the participants are right.

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