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CNBC Ratings Prove Investors Just Don’t Care

I am fascinated with the stock market and with media — not just because both are passions of mine, but also because both fields are very much in the midst of a painful transition. So it’s fun to find areas where these two spheres of influence overlap.

And that’s just what I found when perusing the recent ratings for CNBC and Fox Business Network.

The Nielsen Media Research numbers for CNBC and FBN this May (well, the end of the May reporting period even if the calendar month isn’t finished yet) tell an interesting story. Namely, that most people might not want or — dare I say it — need financial media as much in 2013.

And frankly, if you’re tuning out CNBC and forgoing stock picking in favor of a low-cost index fund, then you deserve a round of applause.

As a pundit, stock picker and market windbag myself, this is almost sacrilegious to say. But I’ll do it anyway.

Consider that May was CNBC’s lowest-rated month in total viewers since April 2005. That’s seven years! Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering, the S&P 500 is up 37% since 2005 and more than 16% year-to-date.

And lest you think Fox Business Network was sucking up all those lost viewers, even FBN saw declines year-over-year in many time slots.

Here are the Nielsen comparisons for this May:

  • 6 to 9:15 a.m.: CNBC ratings rolled back 13% overall and 31% in the 25-54 age group, comparing May 2012 to May 2013. Fox Business Network was down 19% overall and 12% in the key demographic.
  • 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.: CNBC dropped 15% overall and 7% in the younger demo. FBN saw a nearly 20% drop in overall ratings, according to Nielsen, but held steady in the younger demo.
  • 5 to 8 p.m.: CNBC ratings dropped 25% overall but actually posted a gain of almost 11% in the key demographic group. FBN slumped about 33% in overall ratings and a painful 59% in the 25 to 54 age group.
  • 8 to 11 p.m.: CNBC ratings plummeted 32% overall and 34% in the 25 to 54 age demo. FBN saw the younger demo roll back but actually saw significant gains in this timeslot with a 42% surge overall.

It’s worth noting that Fox has a much smaller viewership in some of these segments — for instance, it’s 6 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. viewership in the 25-54 age bracket dropped just 1,000 people according to Nielsen from 8,000 in 2012 to 7,000 in 2013… so it doesn’t take a lot to move the needle on a percentage basis. By comparison, CNBC went from 45,000 to 31,000. So keep the scale in mind.

But even so, aside from Fox’s boom in prime time, there isn’t much good news in these ratings for either company.

Investors are tuning out across the board — with some of CNBC’s lost viewers over the last seven years gone forever.

Of course, it’s more than the rise of low-cost index funds that’s killing market punditry in general and hurting CNBC in specific.

The first is, of course, is that Fox Business Network didn’t exist until the end of 2007 — and its launch stole a bunch of viewers.

Then, of course, there’s the financial crisis and resulting washout in investor interest. Why watch any financial network if your family finances stink?

But most damningly, there has been a slow and steady bleed at CNBC that has persisted since 2010 despite improving stability in the stock market and housing market. Even Fox’s initial growth appears to have leveled off.

That makes me wonder whether any growth is left — and whether the “new normal” of current ratings are the best that either network is ever going to do.

Of course, Fox continues to tinker since it’s a young network. Money with Melissa Francis (a steal from CNBC by the way) just got off the ground about a year ago, and a strong showing during election season seemed to power its prime-time lineup — momentum that has continued lately.

But CNBC is now shaking things up too — with a woeful (both in content and ratings) reality show, Crowd Rules, and Kelly Evans now at the anchor desk for CNBC’s flagship Squawk on the Street markets segment. Both moves have been welcomed with declines compared to previous programming.

Specifically, with Evans on board Squawk on the Street is down 20% year over year and 33% in the key 25-54 demographic — and down 11% overall from the average across 2013 before her arrival.

If all this bull market mania and big programming changes can’t result in growth … it makes you wonder whether any growth is to be had. Hell, CNBC aired the NHL playoffs during prime time this month and did the same with the Olympics last summer. Coupled with its reality TV offering, maybe it’s admitting that 24 hours of market news is just too much.

Although I am admittedly part of the frenzied financial media, I have to agree. It’s important to be informed and stay on top of things. But unless you have a passion for the markets like me and truly enjoy this stuff, you’re better off sticking your money in an index fund and tuning out — like so many others.

Which funds? I like the Vanguard 500 Index Fund (VFINX), which charges just $17 per $10,000 invested and gives you built-in diversification so you don’t have to chase individual picks. Or maybe the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY), which charges even less — just $11 per $10,000 invested — and gives you the same “set it and forget it” way to play this bull market.

I’ll keep on running my mouth, and I hope that a small group of interested folks continue to put food on my table. But for those at CNBC who expect things to get back to the go-go days before the crisis, it looks like they’ve got some lean years ahead.

Related Reading

Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com. Write him at editor@investorplace.com, follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.

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Comments
  • j j

    Absolutely right. From recent reports, most active fund managers have underperformed the averages and index funds, again.
    What I’ve noticed is that financial articles such as yours use to attract a healthy number of comments. Now, it’s more like you see here — no comments. That says it all. Well, I’m wondering how much longer we’ll be seeing the likes of Melissa Lee, Guy Adami and all those characters who… as it turns out are making you less money than a simple index fund!

  • Steve

    Why compare the expenses of Vanguard Index 500 Investor shares (“…which charges just $17 per $10,000 invested”) vs SPDR 500 ETF at “just” $11 per $10,000 invested when, if you have $10,000 to invest, you qualify for the Vanguard Index 500 Admiral shares which would cost $5 per $10,000 invested?

  • raeckart

    My theory is people watch news when things are really, really bad. Tornadoes, bombings & financial crisis bring ratings. Now that Wall Street isn’t melting down, people aren’t compelled to watch; everything’s normal. Producers acknowledge this & attempt to stoke it with “Markets in Turmoil” specials, but the market is giving them no opportunity right now. CNBC ratings will decline until the next financial crisis.

  • freethinker

    three words. kernan, cramer and kudlow

    • Bill

      You got it!

      • Karen

        3 words? may I add 3 more to explain why I have stopped watching CNBC except Fast Money: Cabrera, Santelli, and Bartiromo. I have written to CNBC complaining about rudeness and ill-treatment of non-tea party guests. They don’t care. Hopefully the marketplace will show them the error of their ways. They are no longer a financial channel, but just another bunch of self-serving, right-wing dirtbags.

  • Joe Kernan is a douche

    Joe Kernan…his faux rich mans converative outrage is annoying..switched to bloomberg tv because of that clown

    • Bill

      Me too dude! I upgraded my Cable Programming in order to get Bloomberg. Not ever watching Squawk Box EVER again was my New Year’s resolution and I am so happy I did. I hate Joe Kernan! He thinks he actually earned all of his wealth. He is nothing but a political mouthpiece for the RNC and the Wall Street fat cats. I have to earn my money the old-fashioned way; so, I say fu#% CNBC. I got sick and tired of the political BS. They would be fine if they would just stick to reporting the FINANCIAL NEWS and stay away from the right and left….Straight down the middle and people would come back; but, that is not their mission. They are a bought and Paid for (Joe) propaganda machine for all that is wrong in this Country. One last thing….I am no late arrival, I had been watching CNBC my whole investing life…but no more. The woman are beautiful at Bloomberg and the news is more centered around financials and less of the political stuff…Actually, a refreshing change. Sorry Joe….go polish on your Porsche or maybe You and your daughter can write another book.

      • Jim

        Right on, Bill! My sentiments exactly.

    • ThomasADurkin

      The guests throughout the day all have an agenda to get you into an equity or out.There is little in the way of “fair and unbiased” commentary.
      Kernan could cause a loss of breakfast event daily with his mock sarcasm and simply trying to be “too cool for school”.

  • Joe_in_Indiana

    I look only for Santelli and Cashin when I can–otherwise http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com/

  • Someone

    I can’t stand the ideological rantings of Michelle Caruso Cabrera (who is also incredibly rude to guests she disagrees with), Maria Bartiromo, Kudlow etc. So I no longer watch much. I doubt there is less ranting going on at Fox. People want BUSINESS NEWS, not partisan rhetoric, from a business channel.

    • Bill

      LOL!! Same here. I just loved how she sucked up to and tag-teamed with Joe during opposing debates with Guests. I can’t stand her either. I still don’t understand why anyone would come on CNBC in the first place.

    • Eric Schubert

      Agree. I noticed a big rightward editorial swing when the Fox business channel started. Guess they felt they needed to do that to compete. I used to watch a lot of CNBC, but not anymore. I switched to Bloomberg and haven’t looked back. There is no place for ideological blinders in business news. I prefer balance and civility.

  • ski3938

    This lack of interest makes me even more bullish all the lemmings will eventually get on board but at much higher prices.

    • wutusay

      keep waiting

  • ToNYC_EWR

    1929 was a long year at the end of an ridiculous cheap credit era based on the greater fool liking corporate-named dream paper.

  • roy Hall

    I stopped watching CNBC when Kernan and Klowns interviewing a couple of bank big wigs all agreed that the financial crisis was more or less just “one of those things that happens”. Kernan reads the WSJ editorial than waxes right wing about whatever the subject with absolutely no personal work and no recognition that most issues have more than one side

  • Marie

    I think they went downhill when they were bought by Comcast and started using the likes of Al Sharpton as a commentator. How can they retain any credibility? At least Bartiroma, Caruso-Cabrera, Santelli, etc., have impressive credentials to back up their opinions (unlike most of the know-it-alls on this thread).

    • wutusay

      CNBC, not MSNBC

  • Tammy

    I have written numerous e-mails to Squakbox politely asking that they remove Joe Kernan. He is not funny, he interrupts guests, and his opinions are biased & immature. I am a retailer investor and I need news that I can use…not new charged with drama and blame. I am a TastyTrade viewer now! Tom Sosnoff (who stared ThinkOrSwim) is the host, and my investing has sky-rocketed in profitability. TastyTrade’s veiwership is over 30,000+ daily. To CNBC;s credit, I do check in through parts of the day and enjoy Melissa Lee, Carl Quintanilla, Steve Liesman, Rick Santelli, and Maria Bartiromo. I’d watch more if it weren’t for Joe Kernan. And Amanda Drury’s accent doesn’t sit well with me…she seems uncomfortable. I watch TastyTrade now from 8AM until noon…so, sadly my interest in CNBC (and lack of CNBC every replying to any of my e-mails) has caused me to tune out. …though I do like The Profit show with Mark Lemonis! :)