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Media networks vie for viewership

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Angling to wear the crown of cable business news, CNBC has opened a ratings lead over rival CNN. In the second quarter, Fort Lee, N.J.-based CNBC even beat CNN for the first time in total day average viewership, outdrawing the network 280,000 households to 253,000 households, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

And now CNBC, which is owned by General Electric Co.'s NBC, is pressing its slim advantage for all it's worth by announcing last week the expansion of "Business Center" and several other programming moves.

On July 31, CNBC will expand "Business Center," which goes head-to-head with CNN's "Moneyline," to 90 minutes from one hour. The show, which used to air Monday through Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. eastern, will now appear Monday through Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. On Fridays, "Business Center" will air from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. instead of 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

For viewers, the change is designed to provide more after-hours trading coverage and meet investors' increasingly voracious appetite for financial data, according to Bruno Cohen, CNBC's senior VP-business news.

For marketers, especially b-to-b marketers, the expanded format will offer increased advertising slots. "There's a lot of demand for our inventory on our business news products, and we're creating another half hour of inventory in our business news day," Cohen explained.

Direct competitors?

Many media strategists say "Business Center" and other CNBC programs have become more attractive marketing vehicles over the past few years as business news has meandered to the mainstream.

Comparing CNN and CNBC, Laura Bracken, senior VP-media director at Saatchi & Saatchi, San Francisco, said, "We use both of those networks for b-to-b, although I think CNBC is actually doing better."

"Business Center" garnered an average 273,000 households compared with 228,000 households for "Moneyline," according to Nielsen Media Research data for the second quarter 2000.

In September, CNN plans to do its own revamp of "Moneyline," by making the show "bi-coastal" and having anchors in both New York and Los Angeles and beefing up its West Coast staffing and coverage, said Christa Robinson, CNN director of public relations.

However, Michael Guaraglia, senior VP-director of national broadcast with Boston-based advertising agency Hill, Holliday, said, "CNBC has the momentum."

For its part, CNN doesn't consider itself a direct competitor of CNBC, according to Robinson. CNN is not a business news network but a news network that airs some business programming, she said. "Because we run sports shows three times a day doesn't mean you'd compare us with ESPN," she said.

When CNN and CNBC do go head-to-head during prime time--when both networks air general news programming--CNN is the clear victor with an average 420,000 households to CNBC's 267,000 households, according to Nielsen Media Research data for the second quarter 2000.

Still, for b-to-b marketers, Tyler Schaeffer, media strategist at Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, said that CNBC holds the edge. "In the U.S., CNBC is the priority over CNN for b-to-b," he said. "The numbers are close, where CNBC now for the first time has an edge on the Nielsen ratings. I think the real numbers are even more in favor of CNBC [because Nielsen doesn't measure `out-of-home' viewership]. They are hotter, they have better programs that are more targeted, and they are the first watch by top management in the U.S. for b-to-b."

To maintain its momentum, Bruno said, CNBC is instituting other programming changes beyond its expansion of "Business Center," including:

• New stock ticker debuting July 31. The launch will be backed by TV spots slated to begin airing today on NBC and its cable networks.

• The opening of a Silicon Valley bureau in partnership with The Wall Street Journal to provide more West Coast coverage.

While CNBC presses its advantage, the battle for cable business news viewers appears far from over to media strategists. "A couple of months do not make a season or a lifetime," Guaraglia cautioned.

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