Wild market swings draw viewers

CNBC, Fox Business Network see increased ratings

Bad news to Wall Street has been good news for TV’s financial news outlets.

CNBC, Fox Business Network and Bloomberg TV have been racking up record auds in the past week as market gyrations keep investors large and small glued to the live updates on market conditions. And the heightened interest in financial news has amped up the competition among the cablers to grab audience share at a time when they’re generating sampling from casual viewers.

Monday’s 634-point plunge of the Dow Jones Industrial Average equated to CNBC’s largest audience in more than two years. The 433,000 viewers who tuned in between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. was significantly higher than the 294,000 overall viewers who watched Friday when the market sank 513 points.

Fox Business Network, which just recently became rated by Nielsen, drew 136,000 total viewers Monday, far above its usual average as well. In the 25-54 demo, CNBC drew 125,000 viewers compared to 27,000 for FBN, which is at the disadvantage of being in just more than half as many homes as CNBC.

For the week of Aug. 1-7, CNBC averaged 93,000 viewers in adults 25-54; FBN averaged 16,000 viewers in the demo.

Both outlets were quick to point out that Nielsen stats don’t reflect the entire scope of the aud from group viewing in venues such as trading room floors, hotels and restaurants.

The digital component is booming, too. Bloomberg had 2.6 million unique page views Monday while CNBC.com had 2.3 million — both more than double their typical aud.

The influx of viewers seeking financial news brings opportunity and also a responsibility for anchors and reporters, financial reporters say.

Carl Quintanilla, a contributor to CNBC’s morning program “Squawk on the Street,” said he and his colleagues are cognizant that viewership will increase when financial news is the day’s top headline. Even if those viewers don’t know the difference between a mutual fund and a hedge fund.

“We are conscious of people who ordinarily wouldn’t be watching us and the terms we toss around every day,” he said. “We have to be sensitive to the sampling and be more broad in the concepts of the business and markets.”

Reporters also must be careful in reporting breaking news and their depiction of events, lest they wind up moving markets themselves.

When CNBC’s Jim Cramer said on-air in 2008 on “Today” that investors should take money they need out of the market, the Dow lost several hundred points that day.

“I’ve never worked with anyone who can set the right context and understands the power his words carry than Jim,” Quintanilla said.

Kevin Magee, exec veep of Fox Business Network, said big market events are an important way to draw viewers to FBN. The net will often explain market terminology in the lower portion of the screen to help viewers understand business jargon, and not talk down to them.

“If we put on the right information, people will watch on days like today, and we’ll bring in more viewers,” he said. “If they come, they’ll stick around.”