Bartiromo May Not Know It, But Internet Killed the Cable-TV Star

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ever since the days of Nellie Bly, a famous reporter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there has been an impulse toward stardom in the field of journalism.

I was taught to resist that urge, but there is money to be made in being a big media star, and all my TV major classmates at Northwestern's Medill School, back in 1978, wanted to be stars.

They were easy to pick out from the rest of us. They dressed better, their hair smelled wonderful, and even the guys knew some beauty tips.

Of course, journalism stardom is supposed to feed some higher goal. It's supposed to be a by-product of doing the work and doing it well.

So what are we to make over the Twittering today about Maria Bartiromo? 

Bartiromo, who announced yesterday that she will switch from Comcast's (CMCSA) CNBC to Fox (FOX), has broken no stories. She's an interviewer who gushes over her subjects and saves her interrogatory scorn for those who dare criticize business practices. 

Yet it's big news that, when her latest contract expires on Nov. 24, she's off to Fox Business Network, which trails CNBC badly in the ratings, and Fox News, which doesn't.

The bigger story here might be just how small an audience we're talking about. According to Nielsen CNBC has been averaging 135,000 viewers, Fox Business Network 46,000. On Nov. 12, TVBytheNumbers reported Fox Business' daytime audience "in the demo," people aged 25-54, was 10,000.  Out of 96 services available in the third quarter, Fox Business Network was 85th in the daytime, which is when it draws its biggest audience.

If Bartiromo has just 45,000 fans who will follow her across to Fox Business Network, that doubles the network's audience. Take those viewers away from CNBC and the two networks are tied. That's what Fox is banking on.

But is the prize worth it? Business news, unlike any other beat save perhaps technology, just doesn't take to the small screen. Investors prefer words to pictures and numbers to words. And businessmen don't have time to look at TVs during the day -- they're working.

It may seem strange that someone who works for Jim Cramer might be writing this. But the TV audience for business and investing has never been that large. In normal times, it shouldn't be. There's a 50-50 chance that the audience for this story alone will be bigger than Fox Business Network's daytime ratings in the demo.

The Bartiromo story probably says more about Wall Street than it does about TV, because Wall Street has a dirty little secret. The stock exchange is basically a false front. The trading floor itself is little more than a TV studio, and all those people in suits wandering around it are basically extras.

The real work of Wall Street happens in computers, far away from any exchange floor. Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the Atlanta-based trading company that completed its acquisition of the New York Stock Exchange last week, has its main CoLocation computing center in Chicago. The NYSE maintains a large data center in New Jersey. 

And stocks are actually a small part of the business. ICE itself was formed in 2000 to trade contracts in energy, and then expanded into other commodities, buying the New York Board of Trade in 2007. As I've written before, the markets are all just transaction processing. 

In the cloud computing era, a data center can be anywhere. In the age of the Internet, its trades are cached just about everywhere. The real action happens on your side of this screen, and on millions of screens like it, all around the world.

When it comes to investments, you're the star. You're where the action is. The rest of us are trying to follow you, figure you out, anticipate your next move.

If financial news is a telescope, it's facing the wrong way.

At the time of publication the author owned no stock in companies mentioned in this article.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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