The Business of Business TV
Ten years ago the Public Affairs department at Stern called me and said Bloomberg TV was looking for a marketing prof to come on air and discuss Apple’s earnings, as the scheduled guest had canceled. Two hours later I was on with Pimm Fox, providing blinding insight (“The iPhone is having a positive impact on Apple’s top and bottom line, Pimm.”)
Pimm — a gentleman and a scholar — took a shine to me, coached me off-camera, and let me help shape the segments in what became weekly deep dives into tech. I did the same thing with Deirdre Bolton for a while, but then she bolted (get it, Bolton…ed) for Fox. For about eight years I was a contributing editor at Bloomberg. I then gave up the position and pay so I could appear on other networks (still go on Bloomberg regularly).
It was easy to begin infecting the other networks, as they trade players constantly, and a bunch of former Bloombergers knew me. Since then, I’ve appeared on biz TV (Bloomberg, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox Business Network) about 250 times. I go on, as it’s challenging and fun; NYU Stern seems to like it, and I’m an egomaniac who enjoys seeing himself on TV.
Some observations and generalizations about the business of business television:
Hands-down Bloomberg. It helps to have a billionaire sponsor willing to lose $100M/year (amount network reportedly sheds every annum). I’ve never seen food of any kind at Fox. CNBC has bottled water … which is something. At Bloomberg, people constantly reference Mike’s presence (“he’s in every day, just spoke to him”), but in a decade I’ve never seen him there. However, pretty sure he’s around, as there are several badass dudes (ex-Mossad/NSA) standing around with earpieces who look as if they could kill you with their hands if their Glock jammed. If ISIS shows up in Manhattan, I’m hunkering down at Bloomberg HQ.
Bloomberg’s low ratings are injurious, but not life-threatening, as it’s not about money, nor is it serving as a marketing vehicle for the terminals (party line). Billionaires in their sunset years buy football teams. Billionaires who want to be the sunset buy media firms, as masters of the universe like to … master the universe (control the media). Just as people who spend more time watching sports have a less rewarding experience than players, new money buys sports teams; dynastic money buys media.
Biz TV anchors are, generally, impossibly good‑looking. It’s as if you’ve crashed a 15-year Abercrombie & Fitch model reunion, and you’re seated at the table with the models who went to college. Or more apt, a hot NYC nightclub — a ton of good-looking people in their twenties and thirties, some old guys who shouldn’t be there, and one woman in her forties who’s about to leave. Don’t think it’s the networks that are ageist, but the viewers. A 70-year-old dude sitting at home in the middle of the day, tuning in to see if he’ll run out of money before he dies, would rather turn up the oxygen mix on his tanks and watch good-looking women.
For female anchors, business television is similar to Logan’s Run, a dystopia where to maintain the order, and general hotness of everyone, when they reach a certain age, their life crystal changes color and they’re sent to a carousel where, under the auspices of rebirth, they are vaporized. I don’t know where the anchors go, pretty sure it’s not rebirth. Maybe commercials selling reverse mortgages. I’ve noticed in Europe they seem more comfortable with female anchors who were (gasp) born before the Reagan administration. Then again, these are the same crazy people who choose uber-competent women to lead their nations. Btw, has anybody noticed we have a less likable/intelligent/empathetic version of Ted Baxter anchoring our nation? But that’s another post.
Prof G Anchor Awards
Most likable: Scarlet Fu (Bloomberg). Speaks to guests during commercial breaks, while most anchors are busy checking their Twitter feeds to see who mentioned them.
Most want to roll in South Beach with: Carl Quintanilla (CNBC). Sense he’s fun, and funny. If Zac Efron joined us (you never know), we’d slay.
Best energy: Stephanie Ruhle (MSNBC). After she left Bloomberg, the place feels similar to a household the weekend after quadruplets left for college, quiet and a little sad.
Gives me the hardest time: Jon Fortt (CNBC). Jon is smart and questions everything I say. If he could only look into my soul and see what an awesome person I am.
Most scared of: Tom Keene (Bloomberg). Tom looks like the guy the hockey coach sends onto the ice when a fight is about to break out (enforcer). I wonder if he would rough up Jon Fortt for me. I’ll ask.
Can call me from jail: Pimm Fox and Deirdre Bolton (Bloomberg and Fox). I love Pimm Fox and Deirdre Bolton. Btw, I get these calls often. Not because I have a lot of degenerate friends, but because people think I’m discreet and have access to cash and lawyers. They are right.
Most likely to succeed: Michael Santoli (CNBC): Insightful, humble, and great hair … which is really, really important.
Most likely to be a billionaire: Cory Johnson (ex-Bloomberg). Cory just joined cryptocurrency firm Ripple as chief market strategist.
Most likely to be living with their parents: Cory Johnson (ex-Bloomberg). See above: just joined Ripple.
Should be senator: David Westin (Bloomberg). Again, it’s about the hair.
Most want to be friends with: Carol Massar (Bloomberg). Carol seems smart and funny. Carol, call me.
Crispest mind: Stuart Varney (Fox). Smart, funny, British.
Whom I hate: Andrew Ross Sorkin (CNBC): Andrew peered into my soul, observed every professional goal of mine, and achieved them all by the age of 15. I can’t stand him for this.
To come back as, in my next life: Erik Schatzker (Bloomberg). Dreamy, family man, Canadian. His Instagram is a stream of Erik posing with fish he caught. I think I’d enjoy fishing, but don’t know how, and don’t have the patience to learn. So I’d just come back as Erik.
Last Helicopter out of Saigon
I’ve had coffee/drinks with a couple dozen execs and anchors over the last decade and, once done with the pleasantries, the discussion usually turns to one topic: get me a seat on the chopper. Or more specifically, what’s your advice for helping me get the hell out of here? People assume I’m better connected than I am, and that I’m starting a new business every time I have brunch. The best description of their plight was delivered last week over breakfast by an anchor who said he feels similar to a pilot in the seventies; the glory days of his profession are coming to an end, and he knows it. Can you get me on the chopper, Scott?
Business television is in structural decline, and most of the execs and talent have entered into a consensual hallucination they are still relevant. TV defines the term “empty calories.” CNBC averages 200K total viewers. This week’s Winners & Losers will get 300K–500K. Our viewers are also sub-30 (i.e., make stupid purchases, which advertisers love). The average age of a Fox and CNBC viewer is 68 and 67, respectively. So, if a 30-year-old accidentally turns on Power Lunch, it means there’s a 100-year-old is also watching Sara Eisen (impressive woman) find dozens of ways to interpret Apple’s earnings.
Bezos and Rage
Who or what is killing business television? Bezos and rage. So, granted, biz TV is also subject to the death of the advertising industrial complex — people realize advertising sucks (I mean … really sucks), and advertising has become a tax the poor and technologically illiterate pay. Below are some of the commercials run during a break on Squawk Box:
Mattress One (get 50% off and 0% for five years)
Prevagen brain health supplement
Treasure Hunt, who pays top dollar for your gold and diamonds
Gutterman’s Funeral Home
Crash-Proof Retirement, the slam-dunk retirement system
Just as Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been weaponized by Russia, business television has been weaponized by fraudsters.
The object of biz TV’s affection — Amazon and/or Netflix — will launch this year their own biz program not polluted with advertising, nor saddled by the clock (useless stuff to fill airtime). The cable networks can then report on their own torture and execution.
The real gangsters here are from Seattle and are our limbic system. Amazon and big tech are using their unfettered scale, anticompetitive behavior, and access to near-zero-cost capital to perform infanticide on small firms and euthanize big ones. As a result, there are 50% fewer public companies today than just 20 years ago. So, if CNBC is the equivalent of ESPN for business, what happens to ESPN when the NFL, MLB, NHL, or NBA consolidate to four teams? It gets boring. And business television is getting boring. I was on Tucker Carlson on Tuesday, Bloomberg today, and will be on CNN (Smerconish) on Sat. Why? Don’t think it’s my blinding insight but domain expertise, the Four — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google — which have become so dominant that most business stories now touch on big tech. YTD 48% of the S&P’s rise is a function of Amazon, Netflix, and Microsoft’s gains.
Even worse than the monotony of monopolies is that Fox Business has become the latest vehicle for the middle class to rage against the machine — a primal scream from middle America, who have been repeatedly kicked in the nuts the last three decades. Facebook and Google’s algorithms determined that rage is good for business, as it results in engagement. My right rail on YouTube is chock-full of Democratic senators asking Betsy DeVos simple questions she can’t answer, and I’m enraged and watch the next video. Fox has taken a cue from big tech and forced anchors to say things algorithms will favor — stupid pro-Trump, anti-everything-else stuff that will foment rage. Awful, and it’s working. In 2017 Fox Business News passed CNBC in viewership with a substantially weaker product, glazed in rage.
So, why do I go on Fox? As one of the 90% of people in Manhattan who thought things would turn out differently in 2016, I decided I needed to get out of my echo chamber. For me, that’s going on Fox. Also, they are really nice people. The other day, Stuart Varney (the 007 of biz TV) called me a “lad” during a segment. My dad, also British, used to call me that when he was feeling fond of me, and I almost (no joke) began sobbing on national TV. Fortunately, we cut to a commercial for Gutterman’s Mortuary Services (they have been serving our funeral needs with compassion for decades). I remember this, because I was tearing up. In sum, I like Stuart Varney.
Life is so rich,