What has provided a "stock-market-like" return on
investment to cable-news networks over the last few years? According to the ticker tape of
audience and advertiser interest, it's financial-news programming.
Cable companies are bullish on the programming category,
with three channels already dedicated full-time to covering financial news: Bloomberg
Television, CNBC, and CNNfn. But general-news networks -- particularly Cable News Network
-- said financial news is a hot pick that can only appreciate further.
And they're backing up their prognostications with
significant programming bets, upping their coverage of stock-market and investment
Moneyline News Hour with Lou Dobbs, CNN's charter
financial-news show, expanded to one hour in June. CNN has also increased the number of
two-minute daily stock-market updates from its sister news station, CNNfn, from nine to
19. And this month, CNN Airport Network will double its financial-news coverage to 10
hours of live CNNfn programming per day.
Lou Dobbs, anchor of Moneyline and president of
CNNfn, said CNN has "a number of projects in development" for financial
programming, but he would not elaborate.
Fox News Channel has also expanded its financial-news
coverage. It is now using three on-air reporters to provide more breaking-news stories
about the market during the day, as well as a post-4 p.m. market wrap-up from the offices
of Charles Schwab and Co., a brokerage house and major advertiser, said Chet Collier,
senior vice president at FNC.
And over the two-and-a-half years since it started, FNC has
increased its daily financial programming by one hour and added two weekend programs,
But it's not just the amount of financial news on
cable that's changed: The content of the coverage has shifted to a broader audience.
Industry executives said the democratization of the stock
market is driving the programming category's impressive growth. Far more people,
ranging from grandmothers to teen-agers, are now investing in the stock market through
individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401Ks and mutual funds. Stock information is no
longer just the interest of middle-aged men in pinstripes.
"People want control of what's happening with
their money," Collier said. "They don't just give it to a broker and read
about it in the paper anymore."
CNBC president Bill Bolster said his network has placed
added emphasis on personal-finance news over general business information, while Dobbs
said Moneyline has expanded to include more political, social and economic coverage
to place financial news in a greater context.
Either way, both networks are aiming for coverage that is
more accessible to people outside of the traditional investment community.
"The line between the professional and lay investor is
beginning to blur," Bolster said.
Bob Igiel, executive vice president at The Media Edge, the
brand-media service for Young & Rubicam, said the style of investment news has changed
with the audience. He added that financial programming has, in general, become more
contemporary, folksy and "suitably irreverent," while eschewing dry discussions
with esoteric language -- an approach epitomized by PBS' perennial Wall Street
Certainly, viewer and advertiser interest justifies such
enthusiasm. Since Moneyline moved to a one-hour format, ratings for the show have
increased by 20 percent, to 420,000 daily households viewing. And CNBC reported a 60
percent to 70 percent audience increase over last year.
With such audience interest has come more advertising
To date, financial news has grown to be the dominant
category in cable-news advertising. Financial-service advertisers now account for the
single biggest advertising category for CNN "by a large margin," said Larry
Goodman, president of CNN sales and marketing. Financial services exceeded the automotive
and telecommunications advertising categories as the pre-eminent revenue source in 1997,
and over the past four years, money from financial advertisers has tripled, Goodman added.
For CNN, CNN Headline News and CNN Online, the
financial-services category accounts for 40 percent of all advertising revenue.
Financial-news programming, however, only accounts for 10
percent of all programming time on CNN, Goodman added.
And ever since Moneyline started in 1980, it has
increased in revenues, Dobbs said. FNC did not provide information on revenues.
Goodman said financial-news programming has grown at his
network for several reasons. Traditional financial-programming advertisers such as banks
and brokers have realized they need to build image, as well as to generate sales. Also,
the growth of mutual funds and the crop of "new guys" -- Internet-based
stock-trading companies -- are fueling category increases, Goodman added.
In addition, online brokerages and the use of the Web as a
source for stock information are boosting the profiles of Web sites operated by cable-news
operations. Recent stock-market volatility generated record monthly traffic of 121 million
page views in September on CNNfn's Web site -- the most ever for that site.
Interest in investment-news programming has also expanded
beyond financial-service advertisers. Today, thanks to the mainstreaming of interest in
financial news, broader consumer advertisers -- including automobile makers,
computer-products makers, travel and real estate -- are filling inventory on news
Advertisers particularly like the affluent demographics of
viewers who watch financial-news shows. For example, Tiffany's, the fine jewelry
story, will advertise on CNBC for the first time during this year's holiday season,
"There's been a greater acceptance of financial
news as a broader canvas to sell products," Igiel added.
Ellen Oppenheim, media director at Foote, Cone, and
Belding, New York, said the audience for financial news may be broadening into the
mainstream, but it is unlikely that many consumer-goods advertisers will follow.
Consumer products such as, say, soap, need the right
environment for their ads, and a financial-news program is not often appropriate, she
said. She views the growth of financial-news programming as part of a general expansion of
service-oriented editorial, such as home and gardening or health and fitness.
Also, given the high CMP (cost-per-thousand-homes) rates
for the golden demographics of financial-news shows, some advertisers simply will not want
to ante up. She added that although financial news has been growing in popularity,
viewership of these shows is still minor in the grand scheme of advertising. "Those
shows aren't blowing anyone away with their ratings," Oppenheim added.
But that is not such an issue, since most financial-news
shows are relatively inexpensive to produce, Oppenheim said, making them potential cash
cows for networks or corporate parents. Financial-news-programming executives said one of
the best parts about financial news is that when the market goes down, interest in
financial news goes up even more, helping to protect the category from economic cycles.
Dobbs says the recent crisis in Russia and Asia and the resulting plunge of the stock
market has only "ratcheted up" interest in stock reports.
"It was kind of their Gulf War," Igiel said,
referring to how the war with Iraq helped to fix CNN in the public mind as a leading
source for general news.
But Dobbs' and other executives' enthusiasm for
financial-news programming borders on the same kind of hubris that has led more than one
stock-market investor to a pecuniary pratfall. Dobbs said he doesn't foresee a time
when interest in the category from viewers or advertisers will cool.
"Viewers want more news in bad times," Dobbs
That may be true, but Oppenheim questioned whether
advertisers will have money to spend during those downturns.
And Oppenheim also might prove to have a better perspective
on financial news than the executives who produce such programs do. After the stock-market
crash of 1987, she remembers a cutback in advertising by finance-related companies.
Perhaps the networks need to pay attention to their own
programming in order to understand the nature of a rising market: It eventually goes down.