Amid the TV turmoil, it's always good news at CNBC
Advertising may be falling off a cliff across the industry, says Raymond Snoddy, but there's no slowdown at the global business channel
Sunday 14 September 2008
It really has to be a very ill wind that blows no one any good. Turmoil in the world economy and dangers of recession in many regions equals good news for CNBC, the specialist business television channel.
As some of the established UK media companies look at double-digit advertising falls, and move to cut costs and jobs, CNBC revenues for Europe, the Middle East and Africa are 39 per cent ahead year-on-year so far in 2008.
That follows compound growth of 29 per cent over the past three years – and the channel's audiences are also growing.
Mick Buckley – who runs CNBC Europe and is CNBC president and chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa – remains optimistic, despite the gloomy current events, about prospects for the rest of 2008. "I would hope that we have significant growth," he says, adding: "There is no sign of any slowdown."
CNBC, which this month celebrates its 10th anniversary, can apparently buck the dismal trends in the media because it is international – and because its target audience is largely the upmarket men whom advertisers still want to reach, even in recessionary times. For advertising purposes, the company says it only measures viewers who are in the top 20 per cent income bracket.
Its ratings are boosted by big-name anchors such as Maria Bartiromo – aka "the Money Honey" – who recently landed an exclusive one-on-one interview with the Republican shooting star Sarah Palin, presidential candidate John McCain's running mate.
CNBC's audience is measured daily in the States, and the channel has just had its best July figures for five years. The latest London numbers aren't in yet but the company believes something similar has been happening in Europe.
"I think in bad times people still need to find solutions, whether it's a debt makeover segment we are doing or an investment clinic. People still need to make decisions about their businesses and about their wealth. Probably their senses are more acutely attuned," says Buckley.
As far as advertisers are concerned, he believes they want more "bang for their buck" in difficult times.
"With television audiences fragmenting globally, they really appreciate the high quality of the targeted audience we give them. Really there is no wastage. If you are targeting AB adults, particularly AB men, then CNBC is probably the best buy in television," claims Buckley.
Formerly an executive vice-president for news channels at Turner Broadcasting in London, he believes this is not a traditional sort of recession, when everyone suffers equally and simply waits for things to get better.
"Advertisers in the Middle East are not having a hard time at the moment. They are looking to develop their infrastructure. They are looking to create sustainable brands, for instance in the aviation sector," says Buckley. "So it is not like previous recessions where everyone stops spending and nobody loses brand share. If a Western airline stops spending [on advertising] now, an airline in an emerging part of the world will take their market share."
More surprisingly, given the credit crunch, CNBC has also noticed that big international banks based in Western Europe have continued to advertise, presumably because of worries that they too might lose market share if they cut back on advertising.
Looking across the first decade of CNBC Europe, a number of important changes stand out. When CNBC started, Europe was like a regional story focusing on Brussels, harmonisation, European directives, consolidation.
Ten years on, business is unambiguously a global story. "We weren't doing a lot of stories about the Middle East, China or India 10 years ago," notes Buckley.
At the same time, the explosion in digital technology, and broadband in particular, has increased CNBC's distribution. The broadcaster's programming is now available in more than 400 million homes worldwide.
Over the decade, monthly viewing figures have risen gradually from 1.7 million to their present 6.7 million, with growth continuing at the rate of around 10 per cent a year.
There has also been an important cultural change. At the outset there wasn't much appetite for business television news. Now more and more people are interested in business, encouraged not just by globalisation but by more personal worries about issues such as ageing populations and managing pensions.
And the arrival of business entertainment shows such as The Apprentice and Dragons' Den has highlighted business ideas.
Two years ago CNBC Europe recognised the increasingly global nature of business by setting up Worldwide Exchange, a two-hour programme that airs between 9am and 11am UK time but which is simultaneously anchored in London, Singapore and New York.
It's early morning in New York when the programme goes out, although Buckley says it's not uncommon to see early exercisers watching it on their treadmills at 5.30am, while in Asia Worldwide Exchange goes out from 5pm to 7pm – the close of the working day.
The CNBC executive says the nature of the changes that have taken place was really brought home to him in February when there was a sharp fall in the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index. "It was the first time China sneezed and the US caught a cold," says Buckley.
The story, which broke before Worldwide Exchange went on air, was covered extensively on the programme and throughout the business day, live and in real time as the markets opened and closed across Asia, India and the Middle East. Then coverage handed over to Europe before finishing off that day with the close of the US market, which had its biggest fall since 9/11.
There is a change of pace at weekends, when CNBC Life covers everything from sport to entertainment.
Buckley's favourite stories of all include the AOL-Time War-ner merger – one that CNBC Europe claims as an exclusive – and Sir Philip Green's attempts to take over Marks & Spencer. But he was also pleased last week when former BT chief executive Ben Verwaayen came into the studio to explain why he had decided to move to Alcatel-Lucent.
Over at Buckley's old stamping ground, Turner Broadcasting, CNN International is also enjoying some of the benefits of being an international broadcaster targeting decision-makers in many countries.
Jonathan Davies, executive vice- president of CNN International News Advertising Sales, says he is "cautiously optimistic" that the company's double-digit revenue growth achieved over the past five years will continue this year.
"There is optimism but still with a note of caution because one never knows how things will turn out. We are not tied into the fortunes of any one market. There are opportunities for us which there probably aren't for the ITVs of this world. The Middle East, China and India are all booming markets," says Davies.
Overall the global economy is still growing, even though certain markets are facing tough times, he adds. And he notes that the problems faced by the likes of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia involve attracting enough skilled workers and establishing themselves on the global map – and this provides fertile ground for advertising directors of international broadcasters.
Over at CNBC Europe a symbolic moment is expected later this month. After 10 years the "Europe" is to be dropped, as part of a rebranding. In response to the globalisation of coverage, the Europe designation no longer makes much sense and the channel will simply be called CNBC, as is already the case in the US and Asia.
"We do nine hours of live programming a day from Europe," Buckley explains. "But in-creasingly in those nine hours we are covering global stories because virtually every business story these days has global ramifications."
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