Business news gets soaring ratings

— -- There's nothing like a global financial crisis to whet appetites for business news. But don't be surprised if leading providers keep the champagne on ice for now.

Despite soaring TV ratings and Internet traffic for business news, executives want to see whether top advertisers — financial-services companies — trim spending. "I would not be surprised, but so far we have not seen that," says CNBC President Mark Hoffman, who expects the network to generate record profit for the third consecutive year.

Many advertisers have stayed in to reach audiences that typically are well-to-do and hard to reach.

CNBC attracted an average of 722,000 viewers last week during the daytime hours when the markets are open. That's the network's best performance ever during that key time period, and doesn't include people who tune in at offices, colleges and hotels.

Nielsen does not regularly measure audience at smaller competitors Fox Business Network — which celebrates its first anniversary on Wednesday — and Bloomberg Television.

Yet they also appear to be benefiting. "I know we're up," says Fox Business Network Executive Vice President Kevin Magee. "We've extended into the weekends and late at night. The phones and the e-mails have gone crazy."

Meanwhile millions of people are scrambling to the Internet. Visits to financial news sites for September were up 30%, to 64.3 million unique visitors, from a year earlier, Internet tracker ComScore says.

Google searches for the word "stocks" more than tripled on Sept. 30, compared with Aug. 2, according to data posted by Google's website that tracks trends in what people look for online.

Yahoo Finance, the largest finance site on the Internet, has experienced its biggest weeks for viewership in the second half of September. Activity is up 40% on Yahoo Finance message boards. Its video news program, Tech Ticker, drew a record 2.5 million streams on Sept. 15. "People are asking what is going on, how it affects them and where it may be headed," says Yahoo Finance general manager Mark Interrante.

But that may not pay off if the crisis cripples financial-service companies.

Many news providers have been working since the credit crisis hit last year to attract more tech, travel and luxury goods companies. "Advertising has been a leading indicator" of the economy's problems, says Vivek Shah, president of Time Inc.'s Fortune/Money Group. He says news providers may soon benefit as banks buy ads to re-brand following mergers.

"Advertisers are going to be challenged," Hoffman says. "But we're confident that the level of education and affluence of this user and viewer population will hold up and that advertisers will be with us."