Skip to Content View Previous Reports

Alternative

Alternative

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

There has been a lot of activity in the cable new landscape beyond the three main players in recent years.

2006 saw the launch of the long-anticipated new Fox business news channel, posing a challenge to CNBC, which dominates the cable business news genre.

Current TV, offering a user-generated perspective on current affairs, saw some quiet success. And despite limited success in the American market, international news channels continue to soldier on a year after their debut.

Investing in Business News

Rather than altering the programming on its main news channel, Fox News executives focused their energies instead on creating the new Fox business news channel. The launch, hinted at for more than two years, finally came on October 15, 2007, shortly after News Corp. succeeded in winning its takeover bid for Dow Jones & Company, publisher of the Wall Street Journal (see Ownership).

Until the launch, CNBC, owned by NBC Universal, had dominated the 24-hour cable business news genre. CNN tried to get in the game in 1995 with CNNfn, but shut the channel down in 2004 after years of struggling. Bloomberg TV, around since 1994, also has never gained the traction to truly compete. In the midst of audience and revenue declines across other news media, CNBC has managed to increase both, a sign of a significant niche market.

Both CNBC and Bloomberg TV (on a smaller scale) have demonstrated that advertisers pay top dollar to business news channels, even if their numbers are small. According to projections by SNL Kagan, in the past three years CNBC has seen its subscriber base grow by 9% and net advertising revenues increase by 40%. Bloomberg TV has had a 62% increase its net ad revenues.1

A second plus for business news is that more people than ever are investing in the stock market. According to one USA Today article, more than 50% of U.S. households own stock in the market today, compared to 10% in 1970.2

That suggests that more people may pay attention to and be affected by business news, irrespective of market conditions (unlike in 2000, when business TV ratings and ad sales took a big hit after the economic recession).

Cable TV Business News
Key Players at a Glance, 2007

CNBC Bloomberg TV Fox Business Network
Owner GE (NBC Universal) Bloomberg Media News Corporation
Launch Date April 1989 February 1994 October 2007
Web site www.cnbc.com www.bloomberg.com www.foxbusiness.com
Headquarters Englewood Cliffs, NJ New York, NY New York, NY
Other Bureaus 7 98 5
Year-End Subscribers 2007 95 million 45 million 31 million
Subscriber Fee per Month 2007 27 cents 12 cents 12 cents
Net Revenue 2007 $577.6 million $118.7 million $6.8 million
Total Expenses 2007 $248.1 million $101.8 million $57 million
Profits 2007 $329.5 million $16.9 million -$50.2 million
(expected to break even in 4 years)
Median Age of Viewers 50.5 years 51.2 years N/A
Median Household Income of Viewers $125,000 $136,000 N/A
Strategic Partners Wall Street Journal* Bloomberg news and data services Fox News Channel, Down Jones
Key Management President – Mark Hoffman
Managing Editor – Tyler Mathisen
Chairman – Peter Grauer
CEO – Lex Fenwick
Chairman & CEO – Roger Ailes
Managing Editor – Neil Cavuto
Key On-Air Talent Jim Cramer
Erin Burnett
Maria Bartiromo
Carol Massar
Brian Sullivan
Neil Cavuto
Alexis Glick
David Asman
Key Shows Squawk Box (6 a.m.)
Street Signs (2 p.m.)
Mad Money (6 p.m.)
Morning Call (6 a.m.)
In Focus (Noon)
Money for Breakfast (6 a.m.)
Happy Hour (5 p.m.)
Cavuto Tonight (6 p.m.)

Sources: SNL Kagan, a division of SNL Financial LLC; 2007 Mendelsohn Affluent Survey (available online at http://www.mmrsurveys.com); Bloomberg Bureaus aggregated on October 9, 2007, from http://about.bloomber g.com/contactus/newsbureau.html; Other data from respective channel websites.
Note: All 2007 figures are projections. Median Age refers to age of the head of the household viewing the channel.

CNBC

One of the oldest business news channels in the U.S., CNBC began in 1989, eight years after the launch of the first cable news channel, CNN. After initial struggles, the channel merged with then-rival and dominant business news channel, Financial News Network, in 1991.3 In the 18 years that followed, it carved a distinct niche that has translated into both cash and strong brand. According to SNL Kagan, it was projected to earn more than $300 million in profit in 2007.

Viewership numbers for CNBC are not remarkable, and CNBC argues that its measured audience does not include the majority of its viewers because Nielsen Media neither measures out-of-home viewing, nor does it include affluent homes. In November 2007, its average audience was 286,000 (up 42% from the November 2006 but down about 13% from 2001, when viewership was at an all-time high due to the Internet boom).4

The core of CNBC’s financials lies in the kind of viewers it attracts – not the number. The network says that 99% of its viewers own stocks and that eight out of 10 trade more than three times a month. In 2007, Nielsen puts CNBC viewers’ median family annual income at $63,000, vs. $48,000 for the average cable home.5 A 2007 survey by Mendelsohn Media Research, which only included heads of households that earn $85,000 or more and out-of-home viewers, puts the CNBC viewer’s median income at $125,000 a year.6

According to CNBC’s president, Mark Hoffman, “Wealthy people watch CNBC, and those who want to be wealthy.” He added, “We live in a different place,” namely, the “C-suite,” or the rarefied region that plays well among the CEOs, COOs and CFOs of companies.7

While it has dominated business news on TV, CNBC’s Web site is more recent. After sharing content with Microsoft’s MSN for years, it introduced its own site in December 2006. With 662,000 unique users in April 2007, it ranked a distant 22nd among financial news Web sites, according to comScore Media Metrix. With new competition, one issue CNBC will have to contend with is whether it can continue its successful run just as a weekday daytime operation.

Fox Business Network

Rupert Murdoch announced the October 2007 launch of his new business channel last February, after almost two years of speculation and rumors. A part of the Fox Television Group, the channel is the responsibility of Roger Ailes, the architect of the Fox News Channel and former president of CNBC.

The new network starts with certain disadvantages. It has a much smaller subscriber base than its rivals (one-third that of CNBC and a little less than Bloomberg TV). And according to media reports, News Corp. has spent just $100 million on the channel’s start-up — much less than the Fox News launch.

Given its backing and News Corp.’s track record with Fox News, however, the new channel has already acquired a reputation on Wall Street. In August 2007, a Bear Stearns analyst, Spencer Wang, estimated the new channel’s worth at $540 million.8

Media commentators suggested that News Corp.’s plan for the new venture would resemble its news channel strategy: a soft launch, aggressive recruiting and public relations, stories that have popular appeal and hi-tech graphics.9

The launch followed News Corp.’s acquisition of Dow Jones & Company in August 2007 (see Ownership) but the potential synergy with the Wall Street Journal may not be fully realized for some years. The Wall Street Journal has a content-sharing agreement with CNBC that runs until 2012, giving CNBC exclusive use of Journal reporters as on-air personalities. News Corp. officials are playing down those limitations, with top executives noting that the agreement does not extend to other Dow Jones brands and content.

Like its rivals, Fox Business also geared up online. The channel’s Web site, or “microsite,” went live in the first week of October as a preview to the channel. If successful, News Corp. would own three premium business news sites in the U.S., the other two being Dow Jones’ WSJ.com and Marketwatch.com.

What remains to be seen is how Fox Business Network will position itself vis-à-vis CNBC and, related to that, how much it will follow in the footsteps of Fox News.

One strategy was reaching out to a broader base. “We’re going to be very different to CNBC,” Murdoch said at a Goldman Sachs conference in September 2007. “CNBC is a financial channel for Wall Street. We’re for Main Street. We’re looking for different things, different initiatives, and a different look. You will see a very exciting channel.”10 Ailes, the CEO, said in an October 2007 interview with the Wall Street Journal, however, that the new network is not going to “reach for a lower financial demographic” than any other business channel.11

Bloomberg TV

The other, less publicized, business channel is Bloomberg TV. Launched by financial information company Bloomberg L.P. in 1994, the channel is available not just on TV, but through the company’s core product, the Bloomberg Terminal, which has proprietary software that is extremely popular with finance professionals. (This service costs $1,500 a month for a mountain of news and data via dedicated computers and other media.)

Bloomberg TV does not subscribe to Nielsen, and as such, its viewership cannot be compared to CNBC, but the channel does attract an elite audience. The 2007 Mendelsohn Affluent Survey found that Bloomberg TV viewers have an average annual household income of $136,000, the highest of any cable network it measures.12

Publicly, Bloomberg executives say they are staying out of the fight between CNBC and Fox, but analysts believe they are hoping the two leaders will compete for the same viewers, leaving the lucrative audience of financial professionals up for grabs.

Nonetheless, the channel has been making changes for the first time in years. In early October, a new, cleaner graphic design was introduced, eliminating the jumble of data that originally surrounded the anchors, and highlighting information relevant to the story at hand. Deals with Comcast have increased the reach of the channel to important financial locations, including New Jersey, South Florida and Washington.13 Whether this is an intentional strategy, and what impact it will have as the business news channels begin competing for viewers, remains to be seen.

An International Perspective

How are the newcomers to the U.S. 24-hour news scene faring a year after their debut? While they have not made any big strides, none have left the market.

BBC World

After getting its foot in the door of the U.S. cable news market the year before, the BBC made some headway in reaching out to American viewers in 2007.

The channel is still only available on one cable system in one market (Cablevision in New York), but BBC executives have begun a campaign in key markets like Los Angeles, hoping consumers will demand the channel from their cable operators. (They even launched a site called demandbbc.com.) How effective such public campaigns are remains to be seen. As of July 2007, they were still in negotiations with Time Warner, Comcast and Charter Communications.

But the BBC remains keen on the U.S. market, despite the difficulties. Richard Sambrooke, the CEO of BBC World News, told the Los Angeles Times that it was “a very difficult market to break into … but an important one, both editorially and commercially.” According to him, two-thirds of the visitors to the BBC News Web site are from the U.S.14

To cater to this audience, the channel expanded the half-hour prime-time newscast that aired on BBC America and BBC World News in October 2007. From 7 to 8 p.m., it draws on the content produced by the BBC staff in London. Rome Hartman, a former CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes producer, helped develop the newscast and took on the role of executive producer for BBC World News. There are two senior broadcast producers, one based in Washington and one in London. Matt Frei, a BBC veteran, anchors the newscast.

Al-Jazeera English

Al-Jazeera also continued to face distribution issues in 2007 and tried its hand at negotiating for more carriage.

The channel also made a hire specifically for distribution: Philip Lawrie, former vice president for commercial distribution and digital media sales for CNN in London, joined Al-Jazeera English as director of global distribution in September 2007.

The channel contends that the systems that do carry it – minor players in Ohio and Virginia – have not faced any subscriber losses, and that two-thirds of the visitors to its English- language Web site are from the U.S.15 Reluctance to carry the news channel is attributed to the reputation of the Arabic Al-Jazeera. Branded by the Bush Administration as anti-American and even accused of having ties to Al-Qaeda, it has also, at one point or another, been banned in many Middle Eastern states (see PEJ’s Al-Jazeera Timeline and Interview in August 2006).

The channel is available now to U.S. viewers only via the Web site or its dedicated YouTube channel.

France 24

France 24 was launched in the U.S. and worldwide in 2006, and focused its attention on the international audience in 2007. The channel has a worldwide staff of 430, including 200 multimedia journalists.

In an interview with a British paper, its CEO, Alain de Pouzilhac, said France 24’s budget would not allow expanding its U.S. distribution beyond Washington and the United Nations. With success elsewhere, notably in Europe and Africa, the channel appeared to concentrate on becoming a dominant player in those markets. Its Web site attracts most of its visitors from outside France.16

Current TV

Two years old in August 2007, Current TV continued to have quiet success (see background information on the channel in last year’s report). While its audience remained too small to be measured by Nielsen Media, media reports say it reached 40 million to 50 million homes in 2007 – up from 30 million in 2006, and the 20 million it had at launch.17 A SNL Kagan senior analyst, Derek Baine, estimated that Current gets $59 million a year in license fee revenue (at the rate of 11 cents per subscriber) from its cable carriers.18

It now employs its own team of 15 journalists to create programs outside of those submitted by general users and says it creates in-house two-thirds of the content it airs.19 When contributions are accepted for a “pod” (jargon used to identify the short segments that make up the channel’s programming), outside creators are paid a negotiated rate. Current also pays $1,000 for “V-cams,” or ads, for products.20 The new revenue and staffing figures suggests that the channel’s user-generated content idea seems to have found an audience.

The channel is popular not just with the viewers and contributors. According to a profile in the Boston Globe, Sony, Toyota and L’Oréal are some of the sponsors now paying to advertise on Current TV.

Some of this success can be attributed to former Vice President and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Al Gore, one of the founders of the channel, who continued to promote it in 2007.

In October 2007, the channel revamped its Web site to draw more users, adding social networking and feedback features. Before the changes, the site attracted 152,000 unique visitors per month,21 far behind most established online news sites.

Footnotes

1. According to projections, CNBC’s year-end subscribers (people subscribing to a cable package that includes the channel) in 2004 were 87.1 million and its net ad revenue that year was $139.3 million. In 2007, subscribers are expected to be 95.2 million and net ad revenue $195.8 million. Bloomberg TV’s net ad revenue is projected to be $56.2 million in 2007, up from $34.5 million in 2004. All figures from SNL Kagan, a division of SNL Financial; estimates for 2007.

2. David Lieberman, “Media Companies Notice the Sexiness of Business News,” USA Today, August 1, 2007.

3. The Financial News Network began in Santa Monica, Calif., in 1981 as an offshoot of KWHY-TV in Los Angeles.

4. CNBC Press Release, “CNBC Has Best November in Four Years in the Key Adults 25-54 Demo,” November 30, 2007; CNBC had 328,000 average viewers in 2001 according to Variety. See Michael Learmonth, “CNBC on a road bound for revamps,” Variety, February 7, 2005.

5. David Lieberman, “Media Companies Notice the Sexiness of Business News,” USA Today, August 1, 2007.

6. The 2007 Mendelsohn Affluent Survey, Mendelsohn Media Research Inc., www.mmrsurveys.com

7. Meg James, “CNBC Confronted With Formidable Challenger,” Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2007.

8. The value could go much higher, though, if an affiliation with the Wall Street Journal brand and reporting capabilities attract additional viewers, cuts operating costs or gives the channel cachet it can use to raise ad prices or negotiate higher fees from cable operators.

9. Kevin Downey, “Soft Launch for Fox Business Network,” Media Life Magazine, October 10, 2007.

10. Michael Malone, “Murdoch Hints at Fox Business Network Plans,” Broadcasting & Cable, September 18, 2007.

11. Rebecca Dana, “Can Ailes Outfox CNBC?” Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2007.

12. The 2007 Mendelsohn Affluent Survey, Mendelsohn Media Research Inc., www.mmrsurveys.com

13. Bloomberg TV recently lured Al Hunt and Judy Woodruff to its Washington bureau. Ms. Woodruff, a longtime CNN anchor and contributor at PBS News Hour, interviews guests for a monthly program. Hunt, a former reporter and Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, oversees Bloomberg news coverage in Washington.

14. Matea Gold, “BBC Pursues U.S. Exposure,” Los Angeles Times, July 9, 2007

15. Kent Gibbons, “Al Jazeera English Steps Up U.S. Carriage Efforts,” MultiChannel News, September 27, 2007

16. “Television France 24: A Gallic view of the world,” The Independent, October 15, 2007

17. Figures for 2007 from Brian Stelter, “An Advocate for TV that Viewers Create,” New York Times, October 29, 2007, and Brad Stone, “Making Current TV more Current,” New York Times, October 15, 2007 (Bits Blog); See last year’s Annual Report for 2005 & 2006 figures.

18. Alex Beam, “Al Gore’s Low Voltage Network,” Boston Globe, November 12, 2007; Brian Stelter, “An Advocate for TV that Viewers Create,” New York Times, October 29, 2007

19. Ibid.

20. Brian Stelter, “An Advocate for TV that Viewers Create,” New York Times, October 29, 2007

21. ComScore Ratings in Brian Stelter, “An Advocate for TV that Viewers Create,” New York Times, October 29, 2007.