'Business Nation' hits prime time

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During the past two decades, CNBC has built a solid reputation for serving C-level executives and financial professionals who rely on the network's real-time financial markets coverage. About 70% of C-suite executives at Fortune 1,000 companies who watch television during business hours tune into CNBC, according to an April 2006 study conducted by Erdos & Morgan.

Still, with the rise of the Internet there is an ever-changing shift in how—and where—top executives consume business news and information. In response to this trend, CNBC, which is carried in more than 90 million homes in the U.S. and Canada, is taking pains to develop more original programming to expand its audience beyond the close of the business day.

The network is betting it can do that with "Business Nation." The one-hour newsmagazine show, which debuted Jan. 24 at 10 p.m. ET and is hosted by CNBC chief correspondent David Faber, features a blend of hard-news reports, in-depth investigations and human-interest features. The monthly program is repeated eight to 10 times before the next installment debuts.

Looking to boost ratings

CNBC's goal is to boost its somewhat anemic ratings at night. The network garners 187,000 viewers in the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. time slot, according to Nielsen Media Research. That compares with Fox News' 1.5 million viewers, CNN's 914,000 and MSNBC's 545,000.

Rather than rattle off market and company statistics, "Business Nation" focuses on how business, finance and the economy affect all Americans, not just investors. The premiere edition featured stories on "e-fencing," or what law-enforcement officials said is a growing problem of stolen goods being sold on eBay, and the booming business of ultimate fighting. Each show ends with a segment titled "How I Made My Millions."

Josh Howard, VP-long form programming at CNBC, said the show is designed to "bring our audience into prime time."

Robert Foothorap, VP-ad sales at CNBC, added: "It's a truly unique show that can reach b-to-b executives in a credible environment."

Foothorap said potential advertisers that have seen clips from "Business Nation" have expressed interest, although he would not name names. "Advertisers see it as a human-interest show with a business flair," he said. "The goal is to get new advertisers and go beyond endemic buyers."

CNBC could use a boost in advertising. In the first 11 months of 2006, ad revenue dropped 17% compared with the same period in 2005, to $236 million from $284 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence. About 40% of CNBC's overall advertising consists of b-to-b spots, Foothorap said.

The spots that ran during the premiere of "Business Nation" were originally purchased for "The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch," which is being pre-empted the first Wednesday of each month in order to run an original episode of "Business Nation." The advertisers whose spots ran during the first show included American Express Co., Dell Inc., Office Depot and Waste Management. "Business Nation" will be sold to advertisers on its own starting with the March 7 segment.

Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media, said the impetus behind the show is akin to The Wall Street Journal's effort to alter its ad mix with the 2005 launch of Weekend Journal. "The network wants to get different ads, but not so different from what it typically runs," he said, adding that it makes sense to target C-level executives at home because "they got to that position in the first place because they think about work all the time."

Bill Hebel, senior VP-media director at b-to-b agency Slack, Barshinger, had a mixed reaction to the show. "It's got great production values and an upscale audience, but I would challenge [the show's producers] to make it more relevant to business decision-makers," he said. "I just kind of see `60 Minutes' with a business focus." He said the "How I Made My Millions" segment would probably have the most resonance with b-to-b marketers.

"Business Nation" is the latest entry in a hypercompetitive market for business news on television. Bloomberg, perhaps CNBC's fiercest competitor, runs business news throughout the day. "We're a completely different model," said Judith Czelusniak, who runs global corporate communications for Bloomberg, when asked how Bloomberg is distinguished from CNBC. "We stick to a business format for viewers who are the most high-net-income viewers, who need serious business news and need it fast." Bloomberg is carried in more than 43 million U.S. households.

Horizon Media's Adgate said: "There's a strong feeling that there is enough room for these types of content providers to get an ad commitment. The rub is how well these products do during the next economic downturn."

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