Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

CBS Thinks Now’s a Great Time to Launch a Finance Site: Meet

Many moons ago, CBS owned a piece of a finance Web site. But in 2004, it sold to Dow Jones (the owner of The Wall Street Journal and of this Web site) for some $500 million. And now Les Moonves and company think it would be a good time to have a site that deals with money and stuff again: Meet…

Or at least, meet the placeholder Web site. The real one should launch in mid-March, says Greg Mason, who came to CBS via CNET and is overseeing the operation. He’s hired Eric Schurenberg, the former managing editor of Time Warner’s (TWX) Money magazine, to handle the editorial, which will focus on personal finance rather than general business news.

Mason is hiring additional folks in advance of the launch, including on-air talent; he wouldn’t divulge total staff size but I played the higher/lower game with him and I get the sense there will be something like a dozen people hired for the site.

Obviously, it’s an interesting time to be launching a finance-oriented site, and more on that in a minute. But what’s also interesting about MoneyWatch is that it’s a project dreamed up after CBS (CBS) bought CNET last summer for $1.8 billion. And it’s the first significant example of the broadcast network and the Web site integrating their operations, at least on the content side.

Right now, you can see the occasional CNET staffer showing up on CBS–I happened to glimpse Natalie Del Conte showing off flat-screen TVs for a bemused Harry Smith this morning–but not much more than that. And CBS folks don’t really contribute at all to CNET. But MoneyWatch talent is supposed to be a regular and important contributor for all of CBS’s news operations, as well as its radio stations.

Moonves never promised much editorial synergy when CBS bought CNET–it was really about adding a big piece of Web ad inventory to complement his old media assets. It will be interesting to see if there’s much to gain from an integrated operation here.

So: Why launch a personal finance site when everyone’s finances are being obliterated? Because that’s when everyone is acutely interested in personal finance, Mason argues. “Admittedly, it’s a little countercyclical,” he says, but argues that “CBS kind of figures that the economic crisis will be one of the big stories for the next 18 months.”

Fair enough. But there is plenty of competition out there chasing those same stories. Every major business news site has a personal finance component, and there are plenty of standalone personal finance Web sites out there already–and their traffic hasn’t increased during the meltdown.

The one exception here seems to be something called WalletPop, which is owned by AOL and which I’d never heard of prior to writing this story. Mason hadn’t heard of it, either, but somehow its traffic spiked up last summer, and it now commands more than 10 million uniques a month, per Comscore (SCOR).

Here’s a traffic chart that includes WalletPop vs. competitors, Kiplinger’s and (click to enlarge):

And one that doesn’t:

And then there’s the bigger question: Even if you can get eyeballs, what do you do with them after that? As I’ve previously noted, at least one survey of finance Web sites estimates that revenue is down by as much as 30 percent this quarter, for mostly obvious reasons.

But let’s tackle one thing at a time: Convincing consumers to pay attention to money stuff instead of hiding in a dark room and rocking back and forth (that’s my strategy, at least) will be tough enough. Maybe by the time MoneyWatch figures out that trick, the ad market will have crawled back.