CNBC, Take Two; While Other Financial News Outlets Are Struggling, the Cable Network Strikes Gold
Roberts, Johnnie L., Newsweek
CORRECTION: Correction: In "CNBC, Take Two" (Dec. 18), we misidentified CNBC's senior vice president for business news. He is Jonathan Wald. NEWSWEEK regrets the error.
Byline: Johnnie L. Roberts
Back in the roaring '90s, CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo was the face of business news--the "Money Honey" whom everyone on Wall Street wanted to sit down with for a sexy chat about convertible subordinated debentures (or some such). But then the tech bubble burst, and CNBC's fortunes sank with the market. Struggling to recover, the GE-owned network seemed dazed and confused, hiring bad-boy tennis great John McEnroe and dubious others for primetime talk shows that failed. Now the market's back--and so are CNBC and Bartiromo. Just last week she snagged "gets" with Treasury boss Henry Paulson and embattled Yahoo CEO Terry Semel. "I do feel a great reception when I'm calling people to come on the program," she says. Things are even more fun for CNBC's unlikely star Jim Cramer, manic host of "Mad Money," a stock-touting show that's inexplicably won him a cult-like following on college campuses. "Suddenly, I get good tables at restaurants," he says. "But my 12-year-old daughter is relentlessly asking, 'What's so interesting about your autograph, and why didn't anyone want it before?' "
The answer: business news had ceased to be cool, especially to average Janes and Joes who lost their shirts in the market crash. Misery has been the bottom line in business media for the past few years, with falling ad revenues and layoffs. Even the housing boom and stock-market rebound failed to give much of a lift to the likes of Fortune and BusinessWeek, which have lost readers, and ad dollars, to the Web. The Wall Street Journal unveiled a major cost-cutting redesign last week that will shrink the paper to 12 inches wide from 15 inches (dare we call it The Small Street Journal?).
But CNBC has rediscovered its inner Gordon Gekko. With a new team led by president Mark Hoffman, the network unspooled a lineup of dynamic new shows anchored by young, smart journalists: "Street Signs" features market-moving news delivered by up-and-coming money honey Erin Burnett, 30. "On the Money" is a wrap-up of the day's news, delivered with a business twist by Dylan Ratigan, 34, CNBC's closest thing to a Scud Stud. In prime time, the network spotlights its rock stars, such as Cramer, and original documentaries like "The Age of Wal-Mart," which won a Peabody Award. And last week the network relaunched CNBC.com with a new video-rich layout. (NEWSWEEK has a strategic relationship with NBC.)
The makeover has caught on with viewers. Ratings are soaring among its target audience of 25- to 54-year-olds, up almost 60 percent from last year. Advertisers are following suit, anxious to reach an audience that, while relatively tiny, is perhaps the most affluent in television. Citing data from Mendelsohn Media Research, CNBC pegs median household income of its core viewers at $184,000, with an average net worth of $1. …