CNBC business channel: Global village now a reality

The CNBC business channel has come up with a simultaneous broadcast on three continents. Sure, it's only for two hours a day, but it's the beginning of a revolution in broadcasting. Raymond Snoddy reports
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NBC, the television business channel, has linked the financial markets of the US, Europe and Asia in the first integrated global programme. Worldwide Exchange, broadcast simultaneously to three continents, has anchors and chief executives talking to each other in New York, London and Singapore.

Until now the small delays involved in bouncing the signals up to satellites have been seen as too disruptive to have simultaneous conversations from the three financial centres on a regular basis. CNBC, which launched the new service last month, has used fibre communications to eliminate the delays and create what they believe is a "seamless" two-hour programme every morning. As a result, the three anchors - Ross Westgate in London, Christine Tan in Singapore and Michelle Caruso-Cabrera in New York - often appear together on the screen.

"The world is already a small place. We now have the unique ability, both technically and editorially, to make the world even smaller," says Mark Hoffman, president of CNBC. "The markets are closing in Asia and they are in full motion in Europe and getting ready to open in the US and we can bring all that together in one platform"

The new programme, which reflects the increasing globalisation of markets and turns the competition up a notch on CNBC rivals, will be produced from CNBC headquarters in London. It's the obvious place because it is in the middle of the three time zones.

Chief executives, a key target audience for CNBC, have already expressed support for the new programme which runs from 10am to 12pm in London. For the first time they will be able to speak directly and simultaneously to investors on three continents.

Those persuaded to appear include advertising giants Sir Martin Sorrell and Jean-François Decaux (who is a guest tomorrow). Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of BT, has also been on the show and EMI chairman Eric Nicoli is due to appear next week. Credit Suisse joins today as the commercial sponsor.

Hoffman believes no other broadcaster has created such a daily programme before. "It's not been done on this scale ever. We are really making history here. For two hours a day it will be a global channel," he says.

CNBC will always be a niche business television channel but both the numbers of its viewers - and, more importantly, who they are - are interesting all the same. Conventional ratings don't work because the channel is usually watched not at home but in the office, the gym or the country club. According to the latest European and Marketing Survey (EMS), daily viewers in Europe are up by 37 per cent to 703,000, with weekly viewers up by 19 per cent to 2.75 million with 5.8 million watching every month - a rise of 11 per cent.

"Business television is doing very well but in a niche kind of way. But what it does do very well is bring critical information to the best-educated and most affluent audiences in the world. That's why it's a great business," says Hoffman.

CNBC, a subsidiary of the NBC network, in turn part of the giant GE group, doesn't publish separate profit details but it is believed the channel makes an operating profit of about $250m a year.

The channel likes to point to a Wall Street Journal article on the habits of Warren Buffett, the billionaire they call the world's greatest investor. He drives an old Lincoln car, doesn't have a computer and uses two old black phones to contact his brokers. But in his modest office CNBC is on all the time.

In Europe, CNBC Europe president Mike Buckley says advertising revenue has more than doubled over the past three years and the current year is 29 per cent ahead. The reason, he believes, is that the channel's "pure" business audience is difficult to reach by other means.

"We never have a problem when we are talking to a potential advertiser. They get it," says Buckley.

Overall CNBC has about 750 guests a year on its channels, many of them top businessmen. Buckley has watched their behaviour when they come into the London green room after an appearance. "Their phones just ring from all over the world and their BlackBerries just fill up. Many of them do business in the green room. They do their networking at CNBC and go off and do deals and other things."

Worldwide Exchange is just one symbol of how business television is changing. While CNBC continues to provide all the obvious data scrolling across the screen in real time, data has become a commodity, available all over the place.

The aim now is to add more real-time analysis to the mere numbers and breaking news, and that will mean having even more chief executives coming into the studio.

"It's really about creating intellectual combat on the air, debates over the big issues of the day as opposed to getting one person's opinion," says Hoffman.

When markets are open, "the DNA" of the channel is about markets, money and analysis, but off peak it adds documentaries on issues such as the Enron scandal or the future of Wal-Mart to the mix.

The channel sees its rivals as all media aimed at a business audience whether it is other television channels such as Bloomberg, radio stations, business magazines or newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. And CNBC has no hesitation in playing rough against print.

Promotional material argues that "print simply cannot keep up with live financial news" and points to the morning of Thursday 9 July at 9am as evidence.

At that time the Financial Times was reporting that Philip Green had made a final offer to buy Marks & Spencer. CNBC was reporting the live news that Green's offer had been rejected.

A fierce battle is now under way to attract business advertising as newspapers in particular try to replace some of the advertising under threat from the internet. Last month the International Herald Tribune launched Marketplace by Bloomberg - a new section doubling its business coverage from four to eight pages in an alliance with the US information group.

Like everyone else CNBC is trying to work out how best to respond to the growth of digital technology from mobiles to the internet.

So far it has ruled out streaming live television channels to mobile devices because it has not seen any evidence that is what its audience wants.

"We have a lot of video that other people don't have. The question is really how we take that video on to digital platforms. Consumers do actually want more proprietary content for digital platforms," says Buckley.

CNBC content for mobile devices remains work in progress at the moment but what of the future of Worldwide Exchange? Could the programme be extended if it is a success? "I rule nothing out," says Hoffman.

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