The financial media world was stunned this week when Drudge Report broke the news that Maria Bartiromo would be leaving CNBC for FOX Business Network. Bartiromo, affectionately known as the "Money Honey," has been a fixture at CNBC for two decades. She was one of the network's earliest and biggest stars, and she celebrated her 20-year anniversary there just last month.
A Brooklyn native, Bartiromo joined CNBC in 1993. A couple of years later, she made history as the first journalist to report live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Roger Ailes, who is currently FOX News Channel's president, was the one who got Bartiromo on air back then when he was working for CNBC.
The news of Bartiromo's departure got people talking. Why would one of CNBC's biggest stars quit the network? And why would CNBC let her leave? Yes, CNBC's ratings have been low of late, but they're still well above FOX Business Network's ratings. CNBC still remains the No. 1 business news channel.
According to a source familiar with Bartiromo's thinking, her decision came down to three factors:
Money. FOX made a big offer. CNBC increased its own offer, but didn't quite match FOX's.
Visibility. FOX is going to give Bartiromo a live Sunday show on the FOX News Channel, which has a vastly larger audience than either business network. Bartiromo explored the possibility of hosting a similar show on NBC, but "Meet The Press" was taken and NBC wasn't willing to create a similar slot for her.
The opportunity to, once again, help build something. FOX Business is no longer a startup network, but it has a long way to go before it challenges CNBC as the most popular business network.
FOX's overtures were also made more attractive and persuasive by the personal involvement of FOX boss Roger Ailes. Ailes persuaded Bartiromo that he would be personally committed to helping her further develop her career, support that Bartiromo did not feel she would have at CNBC and NBC.
Ailes also knew the number he had to hit to make Bartiromo switch. The New York Post's Claire Atkinson, who cites unnamed sources, reports that Bartiromo's FOX contract is said to be worth between $5 million and $6 million per year. It was believed that Bartiromo raked in around $4 million at CNBC.
Another big enticement for Bartiromo was the promise of the live Sunday morning show on FOX News Channel. NBC wasn't willing to offer her that. One CNBCer, who will remain anonymous, noted that it was pretty obvious that there weren't many opportunities left for her there in terms of the NBC network. "There just didn't seem to be a lot left here for her to do. She clearly wasn't on the network radar screen, so if she wanted to grow her options were limited at NBC. Kind of reminds me of the Erin Burnett situation." FOX also seems to be an obvious fit for Bartiromo politically. Over the last year, she has been more and more vocal on her show expressing her own viewpoints in her own opinion segment.
Back in 2012, CNBC hired a producer named Gary Schreier, who was Neil Cavuto's Executive Producer FOX Business, to be the Executive Producer of Bartiromo's "Closing Bell." One insider said that he thought Schreier was brought on to make Bartiromo happy. "The sense was that they brought him in to kind of like make Maria happy that he was a guy that...suits her politics. Her politics are more aligned with FOX." Schreier was the one who helped Bartiromo start her "Maria's Observations" segment where she would share her views at the close of each show. "He was brought over to help continue and cultivate and grow her as an anchor and try to draw out more of her personality and viewpoint," another CNBCer said.
The timing of the news of Bartiromo's departure caught CNBC by surprise. Ever since Bartiromo passed on CNBC's final offer and informed the network that she was leaving, the plan had been to announce the news on Thursday, November 21st, the day before Bartiromo's final day on the air, one source says.
The Drudge leak caught CNBC by surprise. CNBC may also have to make some changes in the wake of Bartiromo's departure. One of Bartiromo's assets has always been her ability to book big-name guests. CNBC has long had a policy in which guests have to appear "first on CNBC" before they appear on other networks, and the concern is that Bartiromo's guest-booking power may be able to upend that. "The real stiff CNBC guest policy—This is going to turn that on its head. She works her ass off and gets great guests," a CNBC insider told us.
"I know for a fact that she does a lot of hands on booking herself and keeps in touch with big folks like [Larry] Fink [Prince] Al-Waleed...What does CNBC do then? Are they forced to take that person second that's been with her the whole time. You go 'come on us first or you don't come on at all?' Are they going to say that to the biggies?"
Not everyone thinks this will have a big impact, though. "I think the most immediate impact is going to be in booking, but I have a feeling her prowess was always a little overrated in that department. I don't think anybody's panicking because we might get a few less Meredith Whitney interviews," another CNBCer said.
Even those who don't think Bartiromo's departure will have much impact on CNBC have huge respect for her work ethic. "She is a bulldog. She just works really, really hard. She's an impressive person. She's just driven. She's smart. She's energetic...She fiercely guards her territory...She's tough in a good way... She's just a hard working, driven person and she's competitive. I think that's going to be interesting to see what they're able to do with that," one source who has worked with her said.
So this brings us back to the question of why CNBC is letting her go? CNBC clearly has the money, so why not match it? The story some CNBC executives are telling is that Bartiromo is a member of an old-school TV generation and that CNBC now wants to invest in younger talent who are comfortable working in digital as well as broadcast media—rising stars like Kelly Evans, for example, who has been dubbed the "next Money Honey." Sources say that Bartiromo's deal with FOX Business hasn't been signed, and that some minor details still need to be worked out. (The location of her Sunday show, for example, as well as who she will bring with her from CNBC.)
Bartiromo's contract with CNBC expires on Sunday, November 24, and she is actually not allowed to sign a new contract before then. It's also unclear when Bartiromo will debut on FOX Business. Contractually, she is required to wait 60 days past the end of her CNBC contract, but it's possible that this restriction will be waived. In any event, we won't likely see her on FOX until January.