REPORT ON INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MEDIA: Tuning in to business viewers - The Economist is meeting the challenges of the new-media environment with the launch of a TV version but how can it protect its brand and convert advertisers, Andy Fry asks

Globalisation, new media and the rise of the personal investor are having a profound effect on the provision and consumption of business news.

Globalisation, new media and the rise of the personal investor are having a profound effect on the provision and consumption of business news.

As European consumers take financial management into their own hands, they are demanding immediate information and cogent advice about the economic data that affects their lives - whether it be a slump on the Nasdaq or rising oil prices within Opec.

By its nature, this money-conscious group creates an attractive audience for advertisers.

The latest media owner to address this consumer demand is The Economist - which unveiled a TV version of its brand called EVision in June this year.

EVision is a 30-minute magazine that includes five or six segments analysing key geopolitical and economic issues. Produced monthly for airlines, the plan is to make it weekly and to distribute it to international broadcasters as EVision from The Economist by 2001.

Tony Wales, the director of EVision, admits that negotiating the transition to TV is tricky. 'The key is to retain the firm analysis, strong opinion and characteristic wit of the magazine while creating something appropriate for TV,' he says.

EVision has no hope of competing with 24-hour news channels such as CNBC or CNN - but that is not the goal, Wales says. 'The aim is to provide a forward-thinking, quality programme that extends The Economist tradition of identifying issues that have not yet made the news agenda.'

In September, EVision - which is only one part of the Pearson-owned brand's new activities - also went live with a website that uses video shot by the TV crews. Wales says: 'We are also looking ahead to broadband. We want to be in the first wave of that development.'

Converting advertisers will be a tough job. The leader in dedicated business news is CNBC, which reaches 160 million homes worldwide and boasts huge cross-platform clout through its family links with Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal.

CNBC Europe's president, Marga McNally, believes the network provides personal investors 'with a real-time, actionable network where they can gain context and insight into business'.

The burgeoning market of private investors means the network's audiences are growing rapidly, McNally says. On the back of this, ad revenue has doubled in the past year, fueled by the automotive, finance, airline and dotcom sectors.

The competition is further exacerbated by CNN International, which is seeking to lure advertisers into regular network slots and tailored concepts.

'Business news is an important part of our schedule,' CNN's managing editor for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Tony Maddox, says. 'It doesn't get a very different audience to the rest of the network but we do flag it up on a daily basis.'

There are also opportunities to sponsor customised shows. 'Arthur Andersen sponsors Business Unusual and HSBC partnered us in Your Business Your World,' Maddox says. 'That type of relationship allows us to tackle subjects we probably wouldn't have covered because of budgets.'

ITN is also reinventing itself to meet the challenges of the new-media environment. Traditionally known as a news provider to ITV and Channel 4, it is building a direct relationship with consumers via rolling news networks, online and WAP.

This shift has also led to a reorganisation of the way it creates and distributes content. The best example is ITN's Money Desk - a new unit run by the editor David Hannah, who manages one team with cross-media skills.

'A good example is our personal finance editor, Louise Noel, who also presents Show me the Money, Making Money and writes a column on the website,' Hannah says. If Money Desk works out, he believes it could form a prototype for other areas of content.

There are important commercial implications in such a set-up. New platforms means ITN has access to new audiences. But it doesn't necessarily have the resources to fund the range of services it would aspire to. This could lead to strategic alliances with advertisers.

The repurposing of content is also employed to good effect by The International Herald Tribune. Through a partnership with the production company Fact Based Communications, the paper has a weekly magazine show called IHT Global Economic Review, which airs on RAI in Italy and has sponsors including IBM. In 1999, Bloomberg TV began backing the international roll-out of GER with investment and information.

E Vision's assets in this competitive environment are two-fold. First, its parent brand gives it access to top interview subjects and instant recognition among upscale audiences. Second, it can call upon the TV distribution skills of the show's producer, The Television Corporation. Already, TVC distributes Gillette World of Sport and Toyota World of Wildlife to 100 countries.

Carat International's media director, Nick Gyss, admires the magazine but says it will be an uphill struggle for EVision: 'The question is whether they can translate the authority of the magazine to the commercial world of TV. Will the traditional audience go looking for the TV version? Will the changes they make for TV diminish the difference between e Vision and its competition?'

Even if EVision makes the transition to TV successfully, Pearson will probably need to make the links within its empire work much harder if the show is to have a real impact. If that can be achieved, then advertisers will be able to access a powerful basket of media opportunities including and Far Eastern Economic Review.


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