CNBC Is a Ghost Town – Where Have All the Investors Gone?


CNBC ratings have stunk for a while, recently hitting their lowest levels since 1997.

Financial Media CNBC

But the latest numbers show that being “first in business” may not exactly exactly mean being a priority in the minds of TV viewers.

Nielsen just released third quarter ratings, and once again CNBC has shown it is losing viewership. The network’s “Business Day” segment, from roughly 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., is delivering CNBC its lowest-rated quarter ever — particularly in the coveted advertising demographic of ages 25-54.

Here are just a few noteworthy lows, according to Nielsen data:

  • Squawk Box delivered its lowest-rated quarter ever in total viewership and also in the 25-54 cohort
  • Squawk on the Street delivered its lowest-rated quarter ever with the 25-54 cohort
  • Street Signs delivered its lowest-rated quarter ever in total viewership and also in the 25-54 cohort
  • Closing Bell delivered its lowest-rated quarter ever in total viewership and also in the 25-54 cohort
  • Fast Money delivered its lowest-rated quarter ever in the 25-54 cohort
  • Mad Money tied with Q3 of 2013 for its lowest-rated quarter ever in the 25-54 cohort

Where Have All the Investors Gone?

As a former ink-stained wretch at newspapers, I am a member of the media as I am a member of Wall Street — which is to say, an unimpressive member of both parties. But since I have a lot of connections across the biz, it often results in the same old conversation: “Where have all the investors gone?”

The answer is that many investors have just checked out — some because they invest passively via funds instead of active stock ownership, but others aren’t participating simply because they don’t have the money after the financial crisis, or because they think the market is rigged.

Despite stocks being at record highs, stock ownership in America is at record lows … meaning fewer people who would find anything of value on networks like CNBC.

Competition Is Fierce

At the same time, investors are becoming fewer and far between, and competition has been fierce for the few customers who remain. Many mainstream sites like CNBC on TV, on the Web and countless print products have been struggling to grow in a digital age where smaller and specialized sites have popped up — some with almost cult-like appeal.

For the doom-and-gloom crowd, there’s Zero Hedge. For aggressive traders, there is the StockTwits network or countless blogs like iBankCoin to plot your next move.

And more pop up every day.

CNBC had financial media all to itself in years past … but now there’s Fox Business Network, which launched in 2007 with the full might of Roger Ailes behind it. Fox Business Network didn’t even exist in early 2007, but has managed to move right into the same space as CNBC.

More recently, there’s Bloomberg TV — a scrappy network that isn’t on a lot of carriers, but one that has won a lot of support from investors looking for a higher level of insight.

And let’s not even get started on the number of sites that run video on the web, from Yahoo Finance to some obscure YouTube channel.

Investors Tuning Out

On the whole, despite being a pundit who makes his living off the gyrations of the stock market, I’m not sure that the sharp decline at CNBC is a bad thing.

The vast majority of investors don’t need the kind of infotainment offered there, the kind of drive-by advice that is designed to follow flash-in-the-pan trends and then never circle back with accountability. surely offers up our shares of bad financial advice. But I’d like to think we occasionally set ourselves apart with more thoughtful commentary that is in-depth and longer-term. And we revisit our past calls, we fact-check our writers and we offer up opinions based on real numbers like earnings growth or price-to-earnings ratios.

And investors seem to like it, because despite CNBC’s decline, our site (and others like it) are growing strong.

The bottom line is that investors want options, and will only rely on the outlets that provide quality commentary they trust.

A 24-hour network devoted to the latest fads on Wall Street may work for breaking news … but when it comes to deep insight you can use to make money, CNBC simply may not have the right format to succeed. CNBC surely has some good talent there, but asking them to fill a full day of programming with stories of value simply may be impossible.

And judging by the ratings debacle in Q3, investors have noticed. So they are watching less than ever before.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of and the author of The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great StocksAs of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. Write him at or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP

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