CNBC is Dead: Here's Why Retail Investors Won't Miss It

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Florida Miami Beach television TV flat panel screen monitor cable channel CNBC business stock market Jim Cramer
Jeff Greenberg/ AlamyOne episode of Jim Cramer's "Mad Money" only drew 2,000 viewers to CNBC.
There was a time in the late 1990s –- and again briefly during the financial crisis of in the late 2000s –- when CNBC was the 800-pound gorilla of financial news. Professionals in the financial services industry and amateurs who were active traders were tuned in constantly, and even those with just a cursory interest in the markets were regular viewers.

Those viewers -- especially the retail investors like you and me -- were the lifeblood of the network, driving the ratings of its personality-driven programming. And as much as Comcast's (CMCSA) CNBC needed us, its well-crafted propaganda tried to convince us that we, too, needed CNBC to get the best, up-to-the-minute financial information.

It's questionable as to how much the average retail investor ever really needed CNBC in the past, but what is blatantly clear is that we no longer need it today -- and we know it.

According to the latest Nielsen ratings, CNBC's total audience viewership during the second quarter of 2014 for business day programming has dropped to its lowest levels since 1997. The news is even worse for its marquee show, "Mad Money," hosted by the controversial financial pundit Jim Cramer.

Cramer's show recently had its second-lowest ratings ever among total viewers, and its lowest-rated show among the key 25-54 year old demographic, bringing in only 2,000 such viewers on a Friday afternoon. As Cramer might say, "Un-booyah!"

A New Self-Defined Measurement

The news for CNBC is so bad that Adweek reports that it is replacing industry standard Nielsen ratings -- which it says don't accurately reflect its audience -- with its own "internal measuring of ad deliverables" when soliciting daytime advertisers.

To be fair, the network had little competition for viewers back in its heyday. Now it faces competition not only from the two other major financial networks, Bloomberg and Fox Business News (FOX), but a wide array of financial news sources across the internet and via social media platforms.

Whereas CNBC used to be the de facto source for breaking market news, today, platforms like Twitter (TWTR) regularly break news while CNBC is talking to a previously scheduled guest or in a commercial break. And market-specific social communities like StockTwits generate hundreds of thousands of interactions among their members revolving around the financial news of the day.

Not Enough of Anything

CNBC was never really a useful tool for the retail investor, but now it occupies an awkward space where it's neither fast enough to compete with social media, nor deep enough (nor accountable enough) to compete with long-form digital content, and not accessible enough to compete with online personalities.

Advances in technology have finally revealed the dirty little secret about CNBC -- and financial news television in general: Their shows are window dressing for clients in the offices of institutional investors, and obsolete badges of honor for financial pundits.

The last point of which Josh Brown -- himself a CNBC contributor -- emphasizes in his book "Clash of the Financial Pundits" by saying, "The practiced pundit is making appearances and dropping quotes for the benefit of a firm or a career -- not necessarily for your benefit."

Wise words for the retail investor to live by in an age where your choices for financial information no longer are limited to a single resource, method of distribution or form factor.

Brian Lund's blog offers more on personal finance, the stock market, investing and the secret to eternal life.


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