Stuart Varney has seen many things during his nearly four decades as a business journalist. But Wednesday’s stock-market moves made even him take pause.
“I’ve seen volatility before, and this is quite extreme,” he says, after having wrapped a broadcast during which the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 700 points. “There’s no question about it.”
The Fox Business Network anchor had to keep things moving during three commercial-free hours Wednesday as the network covered unrest in China and a market plunge. CNBC also scrambled to cover the event, ditching commercial breaks starting just before 11 a.m., then returning to normal broadcast just before noon. Fox Business stopped running ads between 9:20 a.m. and 12:24 p.m.
Varney says he doesn’t mind missing a few of the usual interruptions. “You are juggling a lot of different pieces on the chessboard – you have guests, different points of view, different reports, he says. “Without commercials, you are going straight through and it’s more exciting. It’s gripping.”
This marks the second time in recent days that cable’s business-news channels have cut back on ads during a moment of extreme market activity. Last week, both networks cut back on commercials as the DJIA experienced a more than 900-point drop, and corresponding indexes like the Nasdaq and S&P 500 also tumbled. Like today’s fall, they were driven in part by the constant shift in trade talks between the U.S. and China. Last time, CNBC interrupted programming with just a single commercial break between 9:30 a.m. and noon, according to a person familiar with the matter, and was expected to remain commercial free through the close of the stock markets. Fox Corp.’s Fox Business Network, meanwhile, went ad free between 1 p.m. eastern and 4:40 p.m. eastern as the market’s dips became more pronounced.
These headlines spark all kinds of hand-wringing, but it’s also a time that demands top performance from news outlets. Varney says the Fox Business screen this morning was filled with real-time views of Hong Kong as well as market data, “It’s financial television heaven,” he says. But just because he’s seen such stuff in the past doesn’t mean he can predict the future,” says Varney. “The volatility index, the VIX, has been remarkably active throughout the Trump presidency,” he says. Chances are that condition will remain.