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TV sprouting 'biz shows' -- and a new one's coming

By Barbara BradleyBusiness correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 3, 1983


Television was once the great wasteland of economic and business reporting. But today it's becoming lush with new programs on economic and business events of the day.

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The networks and cable TV stations are capitalizing on the recent demand for business news. Ten years ago, the Public Broadcasting System's ''Wall Street Week'' seemed to have the stage to itself. But the last two years have seen a horde of new entrants to the television scene: ''The Wall Street Journal Report, '' ''The Nightly Business Report,'' and ''Enterprise,'' all from PBS; the US Chamber of Commerce's ''BizNet News Today,'' distributed by Modern Satellite News, a cable company; Cable News Network's ''Moneyline''; and Financial News Network, which broadcasts financial news seven hours a day.

And starting March 1, yet another show, ''Business Times,'' will air weekdays between 6 and 8 a.m. (the second hour a repetition of the first) on a sports-oriented cable medium, Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

The question is, does the American public have enough interest to support yet another business television show? Not surprisingly, James C. Crimmins, president and editor in chief of ''Business Times,'' thinks it does. ''Six million people read the Wall Street Journal every day, and [business] is a subject that interests many more,'' he notes. He cites a survey by A.C. Nielsen & Co. which found that the best time periods for reaching business executives (age 25-54, with salaries over $30,000) is between 6 and 8 a.m., and occasionally between 8 and 9:30 p.m.

But Paul F. Kagan, a cable television financial analyst and president of Paul Kagan Associates, is more skeptical. ''Business may be getting a bigger audience ,'' but public interest remains ''very narrow.''

The number of business news shows, he continues, is not entirely due to a sudden thirst for business news. ''The television industry is simply looking for another audience to reach,'' says Mr. Kagan, ''and business executives are an untapped audience.''

Business shows have multiplied since cable television came into its own, about five years ago. Says Philip Corvo, executive director of the National Association of Television Program Executives, ''Cable is a good test to find whether there's a market for a new type of show. Everyone is trying to grab a foothold into the networks through cable.'' He cites health channels and weather channels as examples of other TV experiments.

The demographics, however, do not bode well for business television shows right now, Mr. Kagan says. ''The best way to reach busy executives has historically not been through TV,'' he says. ''The heavy TV watcher is older, younger, more female, and with a lower income than the audience [business shows] are targeting.''

If the early results of Financial News Network - which lured Robert Metz away from the New York Times - are any indication, ''Business Times,'' which will rely on commercials, may be heading into troubled waters. FNN, the only network devoted entirely to financial news, now reaches 7.1 million homes. But it has had trouble getting advertising. Launched in November of 1981, it reported a loss of more than $4 million for the year ended Aug. 31, on advertising revenues of $714,023. But the network, undaunted, plans to expand from a 7-hour broadcast - from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays - to 10 hours (starting at 7 a.m.) by July.

The last 12 months haven't been kind to other business television shows, either. Time Inc.'s ''Money Matters'' flopped. Reuters never got a syndicated weekly for investors off the ground. The Gannett Company pulled Louis Rukeyser's ''Business Journal'' off the air after its first 26 weeks, because there wasn't enough viewer interest.