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Financial News Sites Bank on Video

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CNBC's biggest threat at the moment isn't cable's recently launched, much-hyped Fox Business Network--it's Web video.

Top business/financial news sites like CNNMoney.com and Yahoo Finance are pumping out more original video and now claim audiences approaching the daily ratings of the category's leading cable network.

Such a Web-beats-cable story should turn heads in the TV industry, given the conventional wisdom that the audience generated by online video is purely additive. Thus, it's a story some sites are bringing to buyers.

"I do think that we can start to become part of those conversations," said Jonathan Shar, general manager of CNNMoney.com. Since dialing up video output in January from roughly two clips a day to upwards of 20, the site has shot to the top of Nielsen's VideoCensus ranking for the financial news and information category, delivering 14.6 million total streams in March, nearly 10 million more than second-ranked MSN Money. CNN claims a daily collective reach of 807,000 viewers, over three times the 238,000 averaged by CNBC in April, per Nielsen. (CNBC officials did not return calls seeking comment.)

Shar said those numbers, plus the fact that CNNMoney is potentially accessible to 72 million broadband users at work, are now part of the company's pitch to agencies.

Category leader Yahoo Finance is also approaching CNBC-sized audiences with its recently launched Tech Ticker, a tech-stock-centric blog that produces daily, bicoastal video segments. Yahoo claims TechTicker is pulling in 150,000 to 230,000 unique viewers per day, and sometimes close to 500,000 when featuring a big, news-making guest--including,
recently, Yahoo president Sue Decker.

Diane Galligan, head of Yahoo Finance editorial and a former CNBC producer, said the Yahoo channel's goal is not necessarily to beat CNBC (the network is a content partner, after all) but, rather, to super-serve the tech-junkie crowd. "There is a hunger out there [for this content], and there has not been that kind of depth in video," she said.

Forbes.com took a major plunge into video in 2002 and now averages 2.5 million total viewers per week, per internal data. President/CEO Jim Spanfeller believes a convincing Web-versus-cable argument will become sellable in a matter of "quarters, not years." But in the near term, research is a challenge, as the mix of third-party TV ratings, panel-based Web measures and internal log data yields less-than-perfect comparisons.

David Rittenhouse, senior partner, media director at neo@Ogilvy, said many sites automatically play video when visitors log in, potentially inflating streaming numbers. Still, he said, finance sites will have a solid argument soon, particularly as more agencies centralize video buys. "If [video] starts getting sold in this way--i.e., online video GRPs--then they should compare themselves to TV," he said.