Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is CNBC Losing It's Mojo?

When I worked for what was then called AOL Personal Finance (more recently DailyFinance and WalletPop), we watched CNBC at our desks all day long. It was our equivalent of a Bloomberg machine. When the Fed cut rates or the monthly employment numbers were released, we saw it on CNBC first.

They also had big names like Jim Kramer, Suze Orman and Louis Rukeyser.

So it was with great interest that I saw this post: Has CNBC Lost It's Mojo, which then links to CNBC Ratings at 7-Year Low.

One of the things that made CNBC compelling in those days was a great partnership with the Wall Street Journal. Some of their anchors like Becky Quick eventually came over from the Journal.

When Rupert Murdock bought the Journal and launched Fox Business News, there was certainly some concern that CNBC would be facing it's greatest challenge. Then Bloomberg launched it's own TV channel, and also bought BusinessWeek.

Last year, CNBC lost both of the anchors to the Squawk on the Street program, with Erin Burnett jumping to CNN, and Mark Haines passing away. Dylan Ratigan also left for MSNBC and then left NBC entirely.
While the FastMoney format still works with Melissa Lee at the helm, Squawk on the Street is still a mess.

I have a few observations on why CNBC has lost some of it's luster, some of which are fixable, others of which are structural.
  • During the recent Olympics, CNBC would regularly pre-empt shows. This is indicative of a larger problem that comes from being part of NBC and now Comcast. On the weekends, CNBC usually shows infomercials. Bloomberg or Fox Business would likely not do this.
  • The web and text seem to come more naturally to Bloomberg than it does to CNBC.
  • Introducing the New York Times' equivalents of the Wall Street Journal, such as Paul Krugman and Andrew Ross Sorkin, has not offset the loss of that relationship with the Journal. If anything, it has made it worse.
  • CNBC and now CNN are going to bet on reality TV to boost their rankings, including home flipping shows. If anything, this will potentially alienate their core audience without attracting new audiences. Leave the bad reality shows to A&E and Bravo.
  • CNBC needs new blood. Darren Rovell recently returned to ESPN after six years at CNBC. I find Jim Kramer's Mad Money and Kudlow and Company unwatchable. Another thing I like about Bloomberg, they seem to focus more on the West Coast based tech scene, rather than being driven by the New York Stock Exchange and the big banks.
  • The reality is that CNBC does better when the markets are not doing well, with their peak days coming in 2008 during the financial crisis.
I wouldn't be at all surprised for CNBC to go away in the next decade, perhaps merging with MSNBC or being sold off. But it seems clear that the network's best days are behind it, when it was the unrivaled champion of TV business news

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