Deal or No Deal Time as CNBC Fields Eisner, Deutsch, Cramer

An Interview With Network President Mark Hoffman

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NEW YORK ( -- Mark Hoffman has a rep for being a bit of a turnaround artist, which is why he's in his current job as CNBC's president.
CNBC president Mark Hoffman was tasked by NBC with returning CNBC to its business roots.
CNBC president Mark Hoffman was tasked by NBC with returning CNBC to its business roots.

Back to business
Mr. Hoffman had spent five years at the NBC Universal cable network, rising to become VP-managing editor of business news when he left in August 2001 for NBC Universal's local Connecticut station, WVIT, where he was general manager. After increasing that station's ratings and revenues, he was pulled back by NBC Television President Jeff Zucker last February to return CNBC to its business roots.

A little more than a year later, and it appears Mr. Hoffman has made some progress. CNBC's average prime-time rating in the news demographic of 25- to 54-year-olds is now 75,000, up from 63,000, while daytime is up to 56,000 from 48,000. In his first extensive interview since returning, Mr. Hoffman talks about broadband expansion plans, newly minted cable star Jim Cramer of "Mad Money" and the "push and pull" with Donny Deutsch over the content of his talk show, "The Big Idea."

What was lacking at CNBC when you returned to the network?

It wasn't that things were lacking, we had sort of lost our way a bit. So the first thing I focused on was understanding the marketplace, getting to know the team and doing some analysis of our viewers to try and get back in touch with the brand and the genre.

What viewer analysis did you do?

We did a variety, some anecdotal. Many of our advertisers are also our viewers. In talking with the various groups, I was able to glean quite a bit of information. My view is that cable needs to be narrow and deep. We had broadened our niche a bit more than was appropriate. It was about redefining our niche. If you try and be an investor network and a personal-finance network and a money and life network, it gets confusing. It was about getting back in touch with our DNA and setting it in the context of 2006. Redefinition was back to the future in a way. We are an investor network focused on actionable information. We've always been at our best when we frame the big stories of the day. It's market-driven; oil, globalization, CEO compensation, there are lots of things that come up and we need to be enterprising.

So the evening entertainment talk shows came off?

That was about redefining the niche. At 4 p.m. on the West Coast we had Conan O'Brien on and then Dennis Miller. We needed more clarity about who we were and about getting back to that niche in daytime.

And then Jim Cramer arrived?

When I got here, Cramer had done the pilot [for "Mad Money"]. Within several weeks Cramer went on air, and that was greenlighted by Jeff Zucker. What's fascinating about Jim is not only the histrionics but the real fundamental thing is, he's a brilliant guy who knows the market, and gives information that is actionable.

What other changes have you made?

The joint venture with Dow Jones has gone away [in Asia and Europe; it remains in the U.S.]. We expanded "Squawk Box" and changed the cast and we began doing the final hour with Mark Haines. We hired Erin Burnett from Bloomberg to do "Squawk on the Street" and "Street and Signs." Then Jim Cramer was launched. Out of a series of specials on Hurricane Katrina that we called "Rescue and Recovery," "On the Money" was born and that's grown into a real force. It's a really enjoyable program to watch.

Have you been able to translate the more positive ratings picture into ad dollars? According to TNS Media Intelligence, CNBC's ad revenue dropped from $347.3 million in 2004 to $306.6 million in 2005.

These shows changed the economics. With Conan, we were doing a $6-$7 cost per thousand, "On the Money" is $15 because of the high-end audience. Cramer was a $6 and now it's in the $10 range, and it helps us on the West Coast now that we're business programming. With the overall refocusing and increase in viewership recognition, advertisers are returning.

How will the upfront go for you? CNBC is sold by NBC, so aren't you tied to their fortunes?

We're putting the finishing touches on the upfront strategies. The sell on CNBC and the reason we are driving CPMs is the quality of our audience. Nielsen doesn't measure boardrooms and trading floors or shops or corporate aircraft. Our calendar-year upfront CPMs are $29.50 in daytime and scatter pricing in daytime is in the $23-$25 range. These are significant numbers.

The change in content from entertainment fare to high-end business focus includes Michael Eisner's show, and we hired Josh Howard from "60 Minutes." We're developing a number of long-form documentaries. That's a genre you don't see anymore.

So how do you square airing NBC's new game show "Deal or No Deal," with that?

Here is how I describe it: It's got the word deal in it and there are briefcases.

And how does "The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch" fit in?

Donny is a CEO who has taken to the talk-show format. There's room for it. There is push and pull on content. There are some topics that have worked well and some that have not worked as well. That genre is a moving target but the show has doubled its audience and it's continuing to find its way. There is plenty of room for pop culture; it always comes back to money and business. I'm pleased with it.

What are you doing in terms of broadband video?

We are in the process of redeveloping that strategy and you're going to see some changes on We do 750 interviews around the world in a week. We interview some of the most powerful people around. The online strategy will complement what we do on TV.

What do you want media buyers to know about CNBC?

We are focused on a quality product, that doesn't mean boring. We're relevant and compelling and the quality nature of our audience. We'll stay true to that. We have the best-educated, most-affluent audience money can buy.
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