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Ratings Jump May Be a Sign of Better News for CNBC

July 05, 2002|DAVID BAUDER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — Nearly buried in the bad financial news of the past week was the glimmer of hope it offered to struggling CNBC.

On June 26, the day after CNBC's David Faber first reported about WorldCom Inc. inflating earnings by hiding nearly $4 billion in expenses, the cable network had 29% more viewers than on a typical day this year.

After a nearly unrelenting two-year run of bad news following the bursting of the Internet bubble, CNBC will seize on even that small reason for optimism.

"I do think we're going through a historic period right now where American investors are going to have to engage in the complexities of the financial markets," said Pamela Thomas-Graham, CNBC's chief executive.

And, she hopes, engage in CNBC again.

The cable network has fallen far from its peak, when it averaged 418,000 viewers during the day in March 2000. For a few months, more people watched CNBC during the day than watched CNN.

The network's ratings fell with the stock market. During the first half of this year, CNBC's average viewership of 232,000 was 23% lower than it was the year earlier, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Fewer people are investing in stocks now and, with the market doing poorly, even fewer want to hear about it every day, said Jack Wakshlag, a ratings analyst for the Turner television networks.

CNBC will focus heavily on the corporate scandals as they unfold, Thomas-Graham said. The network announced this week it had hired former Securities and Exchange Commission member Laura Unger as a commentator.

The channel also is converting its prime-time lineup primarily to business programming for the first time.

That's partly out of necessity--it has no non-business star like Geraldo Rivera anymore--and out of design to sharpen the network's focus, Thomas-Graham said.

Brian Williams' one-hour newscast will be moving from MSNBC to CNBC exclusively starting July 15. The first third of Williams' show will be about general news, with the rest largely concentrating on business, she said.

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