A version of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The battle for big gets in TV is heating up thanks to new players in daytime, late-night and even cable business news.
Fox Business Network, part of Roger Ailes' Fox News empire, claimed in an early March TV spot and a March 5 ad in sister outlet The Wall Street Journal that top-rated CNBC is bullying CEOs. "CNBC is worried about being outbooked," the ad read. "CNBC is worried about Fox Business."
Although it won't admit to an exclusionary policy, CNBC won't book even top CEOs if they appear elsewhere first. "We don't have a written policy," says a CNBC rep. "We aggressively book guests, and we are not surprised when guests cancel on other networks to be on CNBC first."
Why did Fox go public with this fight? “It's part of our DNA to not take indignities lying down,” says Kevin McGee, FNC’s executive vp. “CNBC instituted this bullying tactic of telling CEOs, 'If you want to come on us, you can’t go on them.' We just thought it was ridiculous and probably could benefit from being seen in the light of day.”
Fox Business Network and Bloomberg News executives believe CNBC is reacting to increased competition after years of having the field virtually to itself. They also point to a decline in CNBC’s ratings (down by about 8 percent in households), though the network remains the top-rated business news channel, averaging 238,000 viewers during the business day (9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.), according to Nielsen.
McGee insists Fox Business still gets its “share of gets, headlines and headliners,” citing recent appearances by Warren Buffett and JPMorgan CEO James Dimon.
The battle to book top guests isn’t just about CNBC and Fox Business Network. Bloomberg TV also goes after many of the same people, arguing that even though it doesn’t get Nielsen ratings, the viewers it attracts on TV, on digital platforms and on some 2,000 Bloomberg terminals worldwide offer an important platform to these business leaders.
Andrew Morse, head of Bloomberg TV, was executive producer of ABC’s Good Morning America weekend edition. “I didn’t think it was possible to be in a more cutthroat, full-contact version of the booking wars than what existed among morning programs at the broadcast networks,” says Morse. “I didn’t think I would ever be in an environment where the game was just as tough, but this is every bit as challenging and competitive from a booking perspective and in some respects even tougher. The elbows are even sharper.”
New fronts in the booking wars also are developing in daytime. Publicists say the ratings surge of ABC's Good Morning America over NBC's Today has shifted the dynamic. Today recently lost Amanda Knox, the student who was jailed in Italy for the stabbing death of her roommate, to ABC. Sources say NBC's Matt Lauer was working hard to land Knox, whose memoir hits April 30, the same day ABC rolls out Diane Sawyer's Knox interview across broadcasts including GMA and a primetime special. "I have had at least two book publishers tell me that they think Diane Sawyer sells books," says one source, citing her 2012 sit-down with kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard, whose memoir sold close to 200,000 on its release date.
And while exposure matters, bookings often come down to an emotional connection with the anchor. “Jaycee felt Diane’s empathy” when the two met as part of the courting process, says Dugard’s publicist Nancy Seltzer.
Meanwhile, Katie Couric's entry into daytime (and access to all ABC platforms) has upped the competition among morning and afternoon rivals like The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which publicists still see as key to reaching women.
At the same time, Jimmy Kimmel's January move to 11:35 p.m. has heated up the race to get A-listers on the late-night circuit. Sources say Kimmel shifted his taping time to land a prominent actor during awards season and now is playing hardball with Jay Leno for mainstream stars. (Leno and David Letterman are still the preferred outlets to reach older viewers.) Sources say film studios are landing more "package deals," where shows agree to book several people from one movie in exchange for a mega-star, and are demanding exclusivity even among daytime outlets. "It's definitely making things more complicated," says a top star publicist. "Everyone is competitive; this makes it more so."