NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The web's financial-ad category was hammered in 2008, but CBS Interactive is planting the flag in what it hopes to be the bottom of the trough with a new personal-finance site, MoneyWatch.
If it sounds familiar, that's because former CBS parent Viacom had a 45% stake in what was once called CBS MarketWatch, which it sold to Dow Jones in 2005. But last year CBS acquired CNet, and will use the business-news aggregator BNet as a platform to re-enter the personal-finance market.
CBS has hired Eric Schurenberg, former Money managing editor, to run the site, and it's in the process of hiring staff, including experts to appear on camera on CBS News properties such as the "CBS Evening News," "The Early Show," and local CBS TV and radio stations.
"MoneyWatch fills a need at CBS for a trusted brand around personal finance," said CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus.
CBS Interactive Senior VP Greg Mason, a longtime CNet exec, concedes that launching a personal-finance property at a time when magazines and websites are being punished in the recession is a "countercyclical opportunity in some respects."
But he argues that many of those outlets that are children of past booms -- such as MarketWatch -- have lost a bit of credibility and relevance since the crash of 2008, which has savaged portfolios and retirement funds across the American middle class.
"There is a wide broad section of consumers in America who are feeling a little dumb right now, even those who fancy themselves financially literate and sophisticated people," he said. "We see a shift in how consumers and professionals are going to seek information to take back control of their financial destiny."
Interest in financial news hasn't cratered with the economy. Despite the meltdown, sites such as Yahoo Finance, Forbes.com, CNNMoney, The Street, Motley Fool, Smartmoney, BusinessWeek and MarketWatch were all up in December 2008 compared with the same month last year, according to Nielsen Online.
Falling ad pages
Advertising is another story: Magazines that rely on the category have been decimated. Ad pages in Kiplinger's Personal Finance fell more than 14% in 2008, BusinessWeek fell 16%, and SmartMoney fell nearly 30%, according to the Publisher's Information Bureau. The financial-services category represented 13% of online spending in the first six months of 2008, down from 15% in 2007; total online spending was flat at $1.5 billion, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
Mr. Mason said he expects MoneyWatch to reach 3 to 5 million monthly unique visitors within 12 months, helped by promotion throughout BNET and on other CBS News properties. That would make it about the size of BusinessWeek, by Compete's estimate, and competitive with many other business and consumer-finance sites.