CNN celebrates this week the one-year anniversary of the return of its once and present business-news maven—touting the ratings supremacy of Lou Dobbs Moneyline
over CNBC competitor Business Center
and the huge gains over Moneyline
CNN says it has doubled its own ratings while doubling those of Business Center
with the return of Dobbs, who created Moneyline
in 1980 and anchored the program until 1999.
Dobbs thought it would take six months to a year to re-establish his presence, but CNN says the gap was closing as early as August. The following month the terrorist attacks on the U.S. brought a phenomenal wave of viewers to CNN, and Moneyline
went well into million-plus viewership in several weekly averages.
But even with significant drop-offs in viewership as the intensity of that story tapered off, Moneyline
still retained a six-figure viewership lead over Business Center
and a 158% increase last month over its own ratings the same month last year—before Dobbs' return.
And CNN notes that Moneyline's gains for April over the previous year are twice the overall network's gains. The main factor for Moneyline's boost, CNN says, is Dobbs.
"Looking at it from any objective basis," says Bruno Cohen, CNBC's executive vice president for business news, "their numbers have been good. The independent variable is the effect of major news events on a network whose branding identity is covering major news events. There's been a complete paradigm shift for news beginning on September 11."
The gains in business-news viewership not only at CNN but also at Fox, Cohen says, speak to the benefit of being on a more general-news network during a big news story.
Meanwhile, Cohen says, "for business news, the environment has been shifting. The market has been a terrible story. But there are big, geopolitical stories out there. The rhetorical question for advertisers is, if you're paying a premium to advertise on business news, do you want a program that's focused on business news or one that's offers business news and general news. I've got the most upscale, influential, educated audience in television history, and our job is to satisfy those viewers and keep that audience."
Dobbs, whose shows last week went to the Middle East before Wall Street, embraces the notion that his is a more general business-news show. "The broadcast has always been about the political economy," Dobbs says, noting that he was on-site during the Gulf War in 1991. "We've always had a broader context. I cannot think of any part of this news environment—education, war … that does not influence or is not influenced by economics and our standard of living. This is business news for know-it-alls. This broadcast is aimed at the highest common denominator. The broader inclusion in the Moneyline
show is just being a part of CNN, part of the brand … that's why I came back."
Neil Cavuto, whose business-news show on Fox has also shown dramatic growth in the past year and peaked at more than a million viewers in the post-9/11 environment, agrees with the broad view. "I don't have the interest or the inclination to do a market-wonk show. It may seem cliché to talk about how Main Street is connected to Wall Street, but we have to present business news in a way that interests the general-news viewers as well. The jury's still out on whether we'll ever return to any sense of normalcy in the post-9/11 world."
For Dobbs, there have been some distractions. Dobbs was criticized for commentaries defending Enron auditors Arthur Anderson from the Justice Department's pursuit; critics cited ties Dobbs had to the company through paid speeches, past show sponsorship and its auditing of the books of a company in which Dobbs holds an interest. Dobbs maintains those relationships hardly add up to favoritism, and says he remains proud of the commentaries.
His return to CNN, however, has been "a damned ball. I wouldn't have missed this news cycle for anything."