Wednesday, July 01, 2009

CNBC's Hidden Advertising

I happened to be watching CNBC earlier this morning, when I saw a guy named Brian Singer, formerly a senior asset management executive at UBS, appear on Squawkbox.

The ostensible reason for having Singer on the program was his former status as the overall manager of $300B when at UBS. But the real reason was essentially to let Singer advertise that he has left UBS and formed a new hedge fund group.

So, in effect, if you are well-connected with CNBC and can provide some apparent newsworthy spin to your self-promotion, you can use their platform for free advertising.

Singer's big news? That he's starting a hedge fund in this time of market turbulence. That he decries 2/20 pricing. Instead, he is offering 1% and, after five years, 20% of the gains above the S&P500.

Actually, that's an old idea. I offered that back when I partnered with a hedge fund a decade ago. What Singer rambled on about for quite some time was something I had succinctly stated in a Powerpoint slide.

Perhaps in the wake of some mediocre performances by the hedge fund community generally, Singer feels he has nothing to lose promising to only take performance fees on above-market gains, since customers are looking more judiciously at the performance for which they are paying.

What was somewhat striking about the whole 5 minute episode, though, is that Singer was basically allowed a free infomercial just for having been a senior executive at a large firm.

I guess it's a 'hide in plain sight' sort of thing. Claiming something is newsworthy allows CNBC to dispense free air time to friends and perhaps repay favors, or offer exposure as a quid pro quo to sources.

How's that for journalistic ethics from a 'news' network?

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