I Want My CNBC

Back in the day, rock stars were rock stars, and MTV was birthed to give them another venue. (It also created another category—the hair band!) Sometime in the late ’80s, Felix Rohaytn opined, “Now investment bankers are the rock stars.” Then, through the late ’90s, CEOs were the rock stars.

And CNBC was their MTV.

It was the same dynamic: pick up a “band”—a CEO or a company—and flog it through the corporate version of a ZZ Top video, pointing toward the horizon in unison.

In the same way MTV developed the power to create hits, CNBC could create companies. Over the past two years, because of the Internet and CNBC, multiples went to infinity. “Quant models” went kerflooey. The marginal play—the change in stock price at the end of the day or after hours—completely flipped. Instead of the large institutions changing the price, an unaccountable community of individuals was doing so, responding to gossip on jag notes, in chat rooms and, yes, on CNBC. Online traders, day traders, dot-comers, everyone got into the act. Everyone needed their 15 minutes of fame.

So now it’s 2001, the real beginning of the millennium and what have you done? Another year over and a new one just begun.

This new day brings a viewer/consumer/investor numbed by the constant blather of an endless line of talking heads. This group knows that these talking heads know little more than they do, that many analysts are simply flogging the stock their firm just added to their buy list.

Just as MTV evolved from being simply another marketing arm to the music labels, financial TV will begin to create a perspective of its own.

Financial media outlets will continue to thrive, but viewers will use them to search for context and perspective. Context becomes the most valuable commodity of all—as everyone gets access to everything, the next wave of media venues will need to give it all meaning. Meaning helps people invest rather than just trade.

Amateur traders only spell trouble for markets because they move with their own design. Investors examine and, more and more frequently, work with professionals. Look at the recent strategic shifts of Charles Schwab, Fidelity, even E*Trade—a blend of technology and humanity. The evolution discussed here may end the era of infinite multiples and billionaires next door, but it will eliminate lots of the gut-wrenching volatility of the recent past.

MTV knew it was just a marketing tool, so it began to add value with its own programming, inventing reality TV a decade before Survivor with The Real World, bringing extreme sports in from the fringe and creating the first new animation style since Bob Clampett.

It began feeding its audience, not its advertisers. And it became more successful than ever.

CNBC, too, has evolved from flogging stocks to doing deep-dive investigations of the who and how of success and failure. It can begin to develop programming that gets viewers to think, not just act. It can be the moderating force, not a marginal force, in helping people see a bigger picture from their 27-inch screens.