The recent rush to join the business television bandwagon has been unseemly. But does business make good TV? And once away from work, is anyone interested?
It's television for the so-called 'pesto' generation - affluent young Europhiles who spend their weekends riding Harley Davidsons and their weekdays as foreign exchange dealers. At least, that was the slick opening pitch from European Business News (EBN), the Dow Jones-owned business channel, when it launched its 19 hour-a-day news service at the end of February. It was a bullish stance, but with media-watchers giving only three of the existing European business stations a chance of survival, a USP still worth claiming.
Over the past two years the rush to join the business TV bandwagon has been unseemly, with newcomers such as FT Television, Reuters Television and Bloomberg Information Television joining established mainstream broadcasters such as NBC Superchannel. NBC has responded by bumping up its business coverage and, since January, has run a four-hour financial slot each morning.
To the sceptics, the medium faces an uphill battle as it seeks to package the essentially unvisual content of business news to an audience already satisfied by the international specialist press. To others, such services do have some role to play, though the consensus is that the sector is far too small for any single EBN-type sub-group to make it wholly viable.
Joerg Peters, IBM Europe's manager of advertising and promotions, snapped up EBN's launch advertising spot: 'I have to make sure I get to the travelling business community,' he says, 'the sort of people staying in hotels who switch on the television for five to 10 minutes in the morning and evening.' Business television falls broadly into two categories. First, there are the rolling news broadcasters, which work on the traditional rationale of building an audience through the day and into the evening. These include both EBN and NBC, which taper scheduling towards lighter shows later in the day. Against them are competitors such as Reuters, Bloomberg and the FT, which see themselves primarily as information-providers and have their roots pumping on-line data into dealing-room terminals. Their television is one element in a multimedia menu of information which flashes on-screen when a story breaks. Of the three, only Bloomberg plans to offer a dedicated television format, due to launch in September. The rest are expected to reach a wider audience in the next year when cable operators, such as London's Videotron, start to feed the channels directly to desktop PCs.
Advertisers - Saab, Nokia, and Nissan among them - are already showing interest in both formats. The attraction, says Stephen White of European Media Management, is affordable 'narrowcast' television that doesn't waste money on the less affluent viewers who watch broadcast stations. 'An awful lot of companies with upmarket products and services have ads already made which never see the light of day.' Television only becomes viable for them, he says, if it reaches enough AB customers - something that business TV claims it can deliver.
Media analyst Lorna Tilbian at stockbroker Panmure Gordon points to a potentially fatal flaw. 'Something like Reuters is viable as it offers both on-screen data and television. Straight financial television is often more difficult to sell as people generally aren't interested away from work. When you're at home you want to relax and get away from it all.' Chances are that, even if you're among EBN's target Harley-riding audience, once away from your desk you won't give business television a second thought.