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Fox Business Skips Commercial Breaks to Cover Coronavirus (But Still Has a Sponsor)

Liz Claman’s recent ahead-of-the-curve coverage of the effects of the coronavirus crisis on the stock market has been brought to you by TD Ameritrade. But the online broker hasn’t interrupted her Fox Business Network program once in the past three days to make its marketing point.

The anchor’s “The Claman Countdown” has been running without commercial interruption, giving viewers more time to focus on a stunning plunge of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. A TD Ameritrade logo runs on screen, part of a bid to make plain that the financial-services firm is partially responsible for the extra program time. TD Ameritrade has also helped to facilitate commercial-free  blocks between 9 a.m. and noon this week on the Fox Corp,-owned business-news outlet.

“When you go to a Marvel movie at the most crucial moment, you don’t expect to see a commercial and have the action stop,’ says Claman after wrapping a fourth day chronicling market declines for an increasingly nervous viewership. “On days like these, people are tuning in to us for the most important information.”

Fox Business has started a strategic partnership with TD Ameritrade that makes it the sponsor of breaking-news coverage, but places banner ads on screen rather than cutting into program time with a traditional TV spot.  The maneuver is just the latest to surface on TV as various networks look for ways to keep viewers from tuning away in an era when streaming-video options allow them to watch fewer ads – and, in some cases, none.

Live sports and news programs garner some of TV’s biggest audiences at a time when viewers are more prone to watch a scripted program via streaming video. But to keep viewers from feeling their show is being interrupted, some networks are testing new ad formats that don’t get in the way of the proceedings. ESPN has experimented with “double boxes,” or on-air displays that keep half the screen on game action and the other half on a commercial. CNN has made use of “squeezebacks,” or commercial breaks that run alongside the live broadcast from an important event, like a debate or town hall. The news networks have also scrambled to find new ways to bring advertisers on board, even when the news being covered is tough and unsettling.

For Claman, the TD Ameritrade support offers proof that there are still some moments in TV too important to be interrupted. She has made her “Countdown” into a hard a look at the last hour of market trading each day, even as some of the anchors on Fox Business weave more politics into their shows. “I’m not going to get into the culture wars at 3 in the afternoon. My viewers want business, and that’s what they are going to get,” Claman says, adding:  “I’m not talking about how Bernie is gong to cut down the whole country. That’s just not my interest.”

Claman has been calling attention to the potential dangers of the coronavirus since January. “I knew it would be an issue for stocks,” she says, and she has been working to get guests on the program who can explain to viewers the things they need to monitor. She even tracked down Ken Alibek, a former Soviet biological warfare expert whose work has sometimes been controversial, to discuss whether the coronavirus was going to escalate. His response: Yes. “I just wanted someone to tell us if this was going to get worse or better,” says Claman.

The lack of ad breaks creates a new challenge for the anchor, and others who might be on air during such moments. There are no moments where she can catch her breath. “I can’t stop and refocus,” she admits, but “it doesn’t matter. I have a whole team behind me. I don’t look at it as a problem.” She even has developed a hand signal she can make on screen that tells producers to cut her on-air audio so she can speak to the studio about next steps in the broadcast. “What’s next?” she will ask. “Can you get me a Nike chart?”

Claman has held down the same hour on Fox Business since joining the network in 2007 after a stint working at CNBC. She says she won’t mind if there are more commercial-free hours in her future. “It does enable us to make a few bucks and it enables us to be the one you don’t turn away from,” she says, noting “it’s exhausting but exhilarating.”

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