CNNs Moneyline Gets Bicoastal Makeover

Cable News Network's flagship Moneyline News Hour gets an update and goes bicoastal next month, as co-anchor Willow Bay moves to California.

The all-news network will kick off Bay's new Los Angeles anchor post with what's billed as a four-day road trip, "Moneyline Goes West." From Sept. 5 to Sept. 8, Bay will anchor and report on companies from three Pacific Coast hot spots: Irvine, Calif.; Northern California's Silicon Valley; and Beaverton, Ore.

"We want to make a big splash and get viewers' attention," said Katherine O'Hearn, executive in charge of Moneyline. A former ABC News official, O'Hearn joined CNN Business News in June.

Bay's relocation is one of a host of changes at Moneyline, which, like CNN, has declined in the ratings this year. The revamping is meant to both boost viewership and beef up Moneyline's coverage of the West Coast's Internet-driven, computer-buoyed "new economy." As part of that effort, Moneyline will also open a new production unit in the Silicon Valley.

Moneyline is also bolstering its coverage of the traditional market, adding a ticker with quotes from the New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ and the American Stock Exchange. It has brought Terry Keenan back as senior Wall Street correspondent, to report live from the NYSE floor.

The program will also increase its reports on after-hours trading and plans a new series of segments called "Workplace 2000," about emerging trends on the job.

"It's an exciting revitalization of an already powerful and successful franchise," said O'Hearn. "This will add value to the show and increase our coverage of the new economy."

In late July, CNN archrival CNBC initiated a host of changes on its anchor financial-news show, Business Center. It too opened up a Silicon Valley bureau in Palo Alto, Calif., in conjunction with The Wall Street Journal.

CNBC also expanded Business Center to 90 minutes from one hour and redesigned its stock ticker. Viewership for the new half-hour, from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., has jumped by 20 percent compared with a year ago, according to CNBC.

Ratings for both CNN and Moneyline have tumbled this year.

So far in 2000, Moneyline has posted a 0.3 rating, or 238,000 households, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. That trails Business Center, with its 0.4 rating, or 269,000 households, according to Nielsen Media Research data supplied by CNBC.

In the second quarter, Moneyline averaged a 0.3 rating, or 228,000 homes, compared with a 0.5 rating, or 366,000 homes, in the same quarter last year. That's a 40 percent drop in ratings and a 38 percent decrease in delivery.

CNN officials attribute Moneyline's decline not to front man Lou Dobbs' departure a year ago, but to a relatively slow news environment this year that has also hurt the network's overall ratings. Moneyline's fall-off has not been as steep as those of its lead-in, CNN Worldview, officials noted.

The ratings story for Moneyline's 11:30 p.m. repeat is much better. The second quarter was the replay's best ever. It averaged a 0.3 rating and 272,000 homes, a flat rating but a 10 percent increase in household delivery compared to the previous year.

Though O'Hearn said her mandate is to produce a journalistically sound series, she said she's well aware of the ratings situation.

"We must remain true and put on the best show we can, but I'm a competitive television producer and I like to win," O'Hearn said. "I hope this new incarnation of Moneyline will have an effect on people."

Once Bay finishes her trip, she will co-anchor Moneyline in Los Angeles, while colleague Stuart Varney remains in New York. Bay's move allows her to be with husband Robert Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Co.

Moneyline's bicoastal move, along with the Silicon Valley unit, is key to improving reporting on the technology sector, O'Hearn said.

"It's obviously an area that we've covered," she said. "But it's important to have an actual presence."

But CNBC Business Center executive producer Kevin Magee downplayed the importance of a California-based anchor.

"We have always covered Silicon Valley," he said. "We flew people in when necessary. It's not important to our audience for us to have a body in Los Angeles. We are in the center of the financial world." CNBC's Ron Insana and Sue Herera anchor Business Center from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Magee also denied that the Business Center changes, like opening up the Palo Alto bureau, had anything to do with CNN's Moneyline moves, which were first announced in February.

"Our changes were related to our strong performance," Magee said. "We worry enormously about what our audience wants, and we are single-minded in giving it to them."

This week, CNBC's ticker will start reporting stock prices in decimals, rather than fractions. "We're going to do the math for you," Magee said.

When asked about Moneyline's plans to add a stock ticker, Magee said, "What an innovation."

During the first week of the updated Moneyline, Bay will report on these companies: Broadcom Corp., the digital set-top chip supplier; JDS Uniphase, a fiber-optic technology company; Exodus, a Web host and provider of server protection for Internet companies; and Nike, which is reinventing itself and has a new star in golf champ Tiger Woods.

"These are up and comers in the new economy that have show the ability to make a great profit, but you haven't heard much about them," O'Hearn said.