Private Investor: BSkyB would prosper with "Mad Money"

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The Independent Online

However the most enjoyable show was called Mad Money and ran on, I believe, the business channel CNBC. It features a guy named Jim Cramer who paces around a studio surrounded by dealing screens like a wounded bull elephant, railing at stocks, analysts and managements who he disapproves of.

It's a financial phone-in and when Benny from Elko, Nevada or Julia from Buffalo call in and tell him they've just bought Nike or sold Stewart & Stevenson or whatever he reacts as if he's just been told his wife's been cheating with his best friend or his dog's been run over. Emotional is an understatement.

Mad Money certainly beats our home-grown financial/money shows into a cocked hat. It'd be great if the formula could somehow be exported here, except that we don't have anyone like Jim Cramer, although maybe some surrogate could be dug up in the City, and there aren't enough British punters to get the phones even lukewarm.

Pity, but there we are. I recommend you catch it next time you're over there or if you can find it on some satellite channel.

Talking of satellite channels, time to look again at my modest holding in BSkyB. This has been a poor performer of late, underachieving in the sector, the market and my portfolio. I think I'm a little down on the shares. Sky has been in the doldrums ever since James Murdoch declared that he was going for subscriber growth above profits after he took over at the helm last year.

Maybe he's right but the City noticed that the cost of wooing every new Sky customer has risen 18 per cent in the last year. As they say, anyone can buy sales. And yet I do wonder whether in the long run the strategy might just work for them, provided they can squeeze more and more out of individual subscribers.

The latest device to achieve this is an online gambling channel. Then again I've got the real thing there in the form of Sportingbet, probing new highs again this week.

Biding my time hasn't done me any harm with BSkyB so far and I will wait again for a while before committing myself to adding to my holding in the Murdoch family's little circus.

Freeview is certainly a massive threat to Sky (even though, confusingly, it is itself partly owned by BSkyB) because the British TV culture is strongly biased to the idea that whatever turns up in the living room isn't paid for directly.

The wonder is how well Sky has done to screw money out of a nation with a free-to-air TV tradition so dominated and defined by the BBC and paid for by a licence fee which still looks good value against most subscription services.

In the meantime I can't help reflecting on my luck with two investment trusts bought as a punt on the future. These were supposed to be diversification moves aimed at the very long run.

Instead they've behaved rather more like penny shares. I've written a little too often about the JPMorgan Fleming Indian Investment Trust plc, in which I do possess a very happy financial interest.

I have to mention them again for the excellent reason that the shares have hit yet another recent high, now pushing the 200p mark (I started buying at below 50p a couple of years ago). Similarly the F&C Emerging Markets Fund, which is broadly based across East Asia, Latin America, Russia and South Africa has been doing nicely over the past couple of years. Of course history teaches us that these markets can collapse as quickly as they rise, so it may indeed in the end turn out to be a punt for the long rather than short term.

So I'm happy either way, and whatever turbulence might lie ahead, I just wish that British TV had someone like Jim Cramer of Mad Money who I could ask about this sort of thing.

Maybe Sky could try to make a new show based on that concept, despite the problems I mentioned above. Mad Money UK might even tempt me to take out a subscription.


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