Financial news feels the force

7th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

Roland Freund looks at how the US business media is jostling for a lucrative target audience.

By , dpa

New York (dpa) - The world of financial and business media currently finds itself in a state of upheaval comparable to almost nothing it's ever experienced.

Financial information giants Reuters and Thomson have announced plans to join forces, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch has purchased Dow Jones, the venerable US media company for financial news.

At the same time, countless websites have revolutionized access to financial information.

As is almost always the case in business, the forces driving the rapid changes are in the English-speaking world but have consequences for media around the globe.

Devin Wenig, chief operations officer of Reuters, said the financial news landscape is going through immense change. Speaking at a recent international business media conference in New York, Wenig said that more mergers were sure to come.

"Obviously there have been a lot of forces that have been building up in our industry," said Wenig, who gained his position in Reuters management through Thomson's purchase of the news agency. "This year the dam broke."

Rupert Murdoch, 76, is the most enigmatic player in the current poker game being played in the financial media.

The Australian-born US citizen owns newspapers, television stations and internet interests around the world. Assuming regulatory approval, his News Corp operation will take over Dow Jones for 5 billion dollars, including The Wall Street Journal, the flagship US financial newspaper.

Murdoch wants to take the newspaper, which has a US circulation of about 1.7 million copies a day, to number one in the world, a goal viewed as a challenge to the Financial Times, which is published in Britain and distributed throughout Europe. It has a circulation of about 440,000.

Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz said the company sees enormous opportunities for Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal outside of the United States. The current daily circulation of the newspaper's European edition is 80,000.

The Financial Times, owned by the British Pearson Group, has its sights set on the US and Asia.

In Germany, however, the Financial Times, distinctively printed on peach-coloured paper, is looking for a buyer of its 50-per-cent stake in the Financial Times Deutschland.

Media analysts have speculated about the future of the Financial Times with Pearson, suggesting the paper might not be with the company for the long term.

Business publications rank among the most lucrative in the print media world. Their financially secure audiences are highly attractive to advertisers. US Publisher Conde Nast is just now starting a glossy business magazine called Portfolio as a competitor to Forbes, Fortune and Business Week, long-time leaders in financial periodicals.

Another factor for the changing financial press is the increasing amount of financial news content that is available without subscription on the internet, in line with a general media trend.

The Financial Times has already announced it will take steps in this direction, while Murdoch has been thinking aloud about a free Wall Street Journal online. The currently available internet edition has almost 1 million paying subscribers.

The math is actually simple: To get a bigger slice of the growing internet advertising pie, the papers' websites need to have a greater reach. Their competitors are the financial sites of the big online portals such as Yahoo, AOL and MSN.

Not long before taking over Dow Jones, Murdoch started Fox Business News, a new cable television channel. The offshoot of the Murdoch news channel Fox News will compete with CNBC, the top financial cable news channel, and the smaller Bloomberg TV.

Fox Business News aims to report on business for regular viewers, not just for professional business people, and it is not without the Fox News' signature patriotism.

There's even more money to be made supplying financial data of every sort to business professionals. The future partners Reuters and Thomson are two of the largest companies offering such information services.

No wonder the business is worth nearly 19 billion dollars to Thomson. But the deal isn't sealed yet. Regulators are currently evaluating the purchase, and the European Union last month extended its probe and is expected to rule in March.

The third player in the market, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is an impressive example of how much money there is to earn in providing financial information. He built the company that bears his name from scratch starting 25 years ago.

Now, at age 65, he is in the top 25 of Forbes' list of the richest Americans.

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