CNBC on a road bound for revamps

Net takes care of business

CNBC topper Pamela Thomas-Graham has ceded day-to-day management of the financial news network as it undergoes a top-to-bottom revamp to revive lackluster ratings and girds for new competition from Fox News.

Thomas-Graham, a former McKinsey & Co. media consultant, was promoted to chairman of the network, focusing on strategic planning and brand extensions.

Daily management of the channel and programming decisions were handed to Mark Hoffman, president and general manager of NBC Universal-owned WVIT in Connecticut and former VP and managing editor of CNBC in the late ’90s.

Changes at the top of CNBC had been anticipated for some time as the network introduced a string of failed shows in primetime, and ratings for the network’s signature morning shows had slipped.

Ratings for the network have marched steadily downward from a peak of 328,000 at the height of the Internet bubble in 2001 to 134,000 this year.

Hoffman spent a total of four years at the network during its heyday, including a stint as interim prexy of CNBC Europe before leaving for WVIT.

Hoffman touts viewers

“The daytime brand is no weaker than it was three years ago when I left,” Hoffman said. “We’ve got the best educated, most affluent viewers available — those kinds of viewers are coveted by advertisers.”

Thomas-Graham joined from McKinsey in 1999 and was elevated to prexy-CEO of the network in 2001 in a time of intense consumer interest in the stock market and investing.

With its big-time, market-moving CEO interviews and a partnership with the Wall Street Journal, the network became the gold standard for traders and investment professionals.

But as the economy weakened, CNBC’s viewership plummeted. (Time Warner finally shuttered Turner’s financial news channel, CNNfn, late last year.)

Thomas-Graham reports to NBC Universal chairman-CEO Bob Wright in her new role, which will play into her strengths as a media strategist. Hoffman reports to NBC U TV group prexy Jeff Zucker and to Thomas-Graham, but Zucker has management authority over the cabler.

Professional aud

Because CNBC’s main target audience consists of at-work professionals, which are not measured by Nielsen, it has never considered Nielsen ratings a relevant measure of its viewership.

Instead, the network commissions its own studies to sell media buyers on the average net worth of its viewers ($1.3 million) and its popularity in the executive suite.

The network considers its lineup of morning shows “Morning Call,” “Closing Bell,” and “Squawk Box” to be its primetime, though most of its audience is watching from work.

The network has floundered with its evening programming. It debuted shows hosted by tennis great John McEnroe and celebrity ad man Donny Deutsch last summer. McEnroe was canceled after six months; Deutsch’s show rarely breaks 100,000 viewers and occasionally rates so low it isn’t recognized by Nielsen.

Meanwhile, Fox News Channel is developing a 24-hour business news channel that News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch wants to launch on the air before the end of the year.

Fox is expected to target its channel directly at the individual investor and self-made businessman, a demographic that’s more measurable than viewers in wire houses, trading floors and country clubs.

Fox airs the top five business shows on cable television, including the top show, “Your World With Neil Cavuto,” with an average of 974,000 viewers so far this year, up 31% from a year ago. The rest of the top five are Fox’s “Bulls & Bears,” “Cavuto on Business,” “Forbes on Fox” and “Cashin’ In.”

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