It’s hard to recall a commercial network making such a curious play -- or one at all -- to get into public broadcasting. No, “Downton Abbey” hasn’t been acquired by one of the Big Four networks. This is much lower stakes.
CNBC is taking over the “Nightly Business Report (NBR),” the weeknight business news show. It was launched in 1979, but judging by the spartan NBR.com -- Web 0.0 kind of stuff -- feels even older.
Even as it has lost influence, the show still has wide distribution via American Public Television (96% of the country by one measure). Channel 13 in New York airs it Monday-Friday at 6:30 p.m.
CNBC is buying the show from a private-equity firm. Exactly what it plans to do with it is unclear. Rebranding it the “CNBC Nightly Business Report” would seem to be most desirable, but the public broadcasting stations offering it aren’t likely to allow it.
Which begs the question of how much CNBC branding and cross-promotion and use of talent the stations will stomach. Otherwise, are they public broadcasters or simply lending their airtime to a network that’s part of one of the world’s biggest media companies?
CNBC will pair one of its anchors -- Tyler Mathisen -- with one of the incumbents, Susie Gharib. And CNBC executive Nikhil Deogun indicated to The New York Times that other CNBC reporters will be involved.
Deogun said the show offers an audience that “has very little duplication, as best we can tell” with CNBC, while “Nightly Business Report” is a “great brand." Obviously, he meant substance -- because as far as style, any branding firm that came up with the name might be fired forthwith.
Except for Gharib, the remainder of the show’s staff will be let go. If CNBC is successful in selling sponsorships and finding new revenue streams while maintaining a high level of editorial quality, one wonders whether politicians eager to cut PBS funding might use it as an example of how to help taxpayers.
In any case, it’s striking that a cheerleader of capitalism is now in public broadcasting.