It was a few months back when I read that the New York Times was going to start selling advertising on its front page. I guess I read it wrong. There was advertising in a strange place in Monday's NYT but it was on the front of the Business Section and NBC was the 'client.' At least that's what it looked like to me. Of course that's just my opinion.
Opinions as it turns out carry allot of weight these days in the 'news' business. The first 'ad' for NBC in the Times dealt with CNBC. As cable ventures go, and relative to it's own ratings history, these are halcyon days for the business channel. In terms of total TV viewing, 282,000 homes, which is what CNBC has averaged in the first two months of the year, aren't many. But in the fractured world of cable television and at this particular time, with the economy circling the drain, it's significant.
CNBC has always been the 'home' team television outlet, and the 'home' team is Wall Street. If the 'Streeters' do well, lots of people watch. If the 'home' team is a loser, not so much. To stem this up and down tide , this one time forgotten child of the NBC 'family' has finally succumbed to that bastion of cable news--opinion. Up until recently the 'opinion-miesters' on the channel, the likes of Jim Cramer and Larry Kudlow, were kept at arms length, on the fringes of the business day coverage. You know what you're getting with Larry and Jim (well sort of--someone probably should ask Cramer why he 'disappeared' from CNBC's air in the early days--and if Larry is 'praying' about running for the Senate shouldn't he be 'praying' off the air?) In other words--caveat emptor-if you're buying stocks based on what Cramer and Kudlow are telling you--shame on you.
But these days not only are Jim and Larry popping up in coverage during market hours, and elsewhere on NBC owned properties as 'experts', but so are all those boxes. How many cubes can you get on the screen at once with everyone talking at the same time? It looks like a goofy version of the Muppet Show. How many 'voices' can you listen to at once--and should the 'anchors' and 'reporters' be expressing opinions? Where does fact end and fiction begin?
Speaking of fiction. An hour of Nightly News every night? That little nugget was in the second NBC 'ad', just below the CNBC one. NBC News President Steve Capus quoted as saying that NBC is '..postioned..' to be the first network to expand to a full hour newscast. No timetable. No Mas!
This brought about by the relatively strong ratings and revenue performance of the news division. Turns out that even with all the talk about the 'death' of television news, over 25 million people a night still tune in to the three network broadcasts to see what's going on. Hmmm, 25 million people, should be some money in there somewhere. The problem has been that the current network management, at all levels, right down to the local stations, hasn't been innovative enough to figure out how to get it. A group that came to maturity during the '..turn on the transmitter and the money comes out..' era of broadcasting has been stymied by the growth of the Internet and the audience division created by cable. So when times get a little flush the answer is---an hour of Nightly nightly? And what will that hour of 'Nightly' be filled with exactly? Aren't news divisions shrinking? Haven't news people been calved in droves? Isn't there talk of 'sharing' resources with competitors? I've got it! How about ten little boxes with everyone talking at once? Hey, Cramer and Kudlow still have some empty slots available.
The bright spot in the 'ads' was the talk about profits. Apparently both the news division and CNBC are making them. Which is good to hear with unemployment in journalism so high. If Nightly goes to an hour a night, and CNBC keeps growing more and more popular, there will be jobs for the taking! But before you run over with your resume, I'd call first. That's just my opinion.
Mike Hegedus is currently Executive Producer for The McKinley Reserve Media Group. Previously he served as Sr. Features Correspondent for CNBC for nearly 11 years.
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