Market Dives, CNBC Thrives

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As the stock market dove, the federal government bailed out big banks, and investors panicked, the folks at CNBC were enjoying every minute of it. On Monday, the network had 488,000 total viewers during business day (5 a.m.-7 p.m.), the largest audience since Sept. 17, 2001, the Monday after the terrorist attacks. On Tuesday, 523,000 viewers tuned in, and on Wednesday, 495,000 viewers watched the network. Meanwhile, posted four days of 15 million page views. Mark Hoffman, who was named president of CNBC three years ago, talked with Multichannel News editor In chief Mark Robichaux about the market turmoil, his network’s performance, and how much influence his stars have.

MCN: The recent market drop, government bailout and consumer reaction is an incredibly complex story. How would you rate CNBC’s job at explaining it?

Mark Hoffman: I think they’ve been thoughtful and they’ve been measured and they’ve been fair. You can’t call it anything but a crisis, and I think we have an exceptionally strong, knowledgeable team that has delivered on-air, behind the scenes and online.

MCN: There’s been a lot of focus recently on “talking heads” in the media. That’s led to speculation that some reports or reporters on CNBC can influence the markets or the fortunes of certain companies. Are you concerned that your talent may be too eager on certain stories?

MH: We’re mindful of our responsibility. In fact, we’re set up for balance and fairness. Three years ago, we interviewed 40 people a day or so domestically; now we’re over 120 people a day. And that’s all about a diversity of opinion and fostering thoughtful interchange on the air.

We do that every day. We’re always focused on the inherent conflict in business, and it is the airing of all sides of a particular issue that’s really at the heart and soul of what CNBC is about. You know this from your business experience: The most inherent conflict there is, the most fundamental conflict, lives in business, and that’s when one person wants to buy something and another person wants to sell it.

MCN: Are you ever afraid one of your reporters or anchors may go too far with an opinion?

MH: No.

MCN: Fox Business Network, which is not yet rated by Nielsen, has made an ambitious run at your audience. How has it affected your strategy?

MH: We’re focused on what we do. We have a brand promise that we make, and that is that we’re fast, accurate, actionable and unbiased. We try to bring, despite 20 years of experience this coming April 17, we bring a startup mentality every day.

We’re an investor network, we frame what we do everyday in the biggest general news and business stories of the day. And we come in every day, and we make that happen.

MCN: There’s a certain amount of panic in the market. What happens in the event of a prolonged bear market? Will this “panic watching” subside?

MH: I can tell you that, in the last three and a half years, we have seen double-digit revenue growth every year. We have seen double-digit measured-audience growth every year. We’ve set new profit records each year. I think the environment has been certainly more down than up, and we have done exceptionally well, and we’re very confident about the future.

MCN: You had to retool your Web site a couple years ago. Are you happy with the performance now?

MH: The Web site is doing exceptionally well. It’s the fastest-growing financial site, period. It was December of 2006 when we launched the current, and we’ve seen tremendous growth. It’s a profitable entity in its second year, and I’m really … I’m exceptionally pleased with it.

MCN: What do you think CNBC business model should be in the next few years?

MH: Well, we have no more insight than anybody else on what the world is going to look like in three to five years. But we’re very focused on delivering our service to people where they want it, when they want it, how they want it. We’ve been exceptionally focused on various forms of digital delivery, whether it’s online or on telephones. We have made significant investments in our international businesses and alliances around the world, and that’s been a great editorial tool for all of the newsrooms around the world. It’s been an exceptional tool for us to create advertising solutions for our customers. So that’s where we’re focused.