Business Insider Passes CNBC in Key Traffic Measure

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Business Insider, a site that is barely five years old, has moved ahead of CNBC in a critical ranking of online audience. And the upstart site, at its current rate of growth, could soon move ahead of CNNMoney. If the trend continues, it will be proof that older financial media have not adapted to the current generation of business media consumers' demands. And the change in the landscape could be permanent. CNBC and CNNMoney have not shown they are willing to adapt their models and take the extreme risk that such an adoption would carry with it.

In the latest measurement of online audiences, the comScore October traffic report, Business Insider had 11.76 million unique visitors. This puts it far ahead of CNBC's 9.62 million. CNNMoney's unique visitor figure for the period was 12.16 million.

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Business Insider is an insane mashing together of real business and financial news, gawking at celebrities, wildly exaggerated headlines and endless photo essays on subjects as unrelated as how Mars looked four billion years ago and the Abrams M1 tank. Its editors must believe that, in among the scores of stories it publishes each day, there is something for the reader who wants serious business news and analysis, as well as the reader who wants to be nothing more than entertained (although both groups may be mostly the same). The editorial anarchy has created a nearly perfect pitch.

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CNBC should have gigantic advantages over most business websites. It is tethered to the most watched financial network in America, and it can use that programming to program its own pages. CNBC, the television network, creates a long line of exclusive interviews and exclusive news that feeds CNBC.com with content no other site has access to. In addition, its editors publish stories from Reuters, The New York Times and the Associated Press. CNBC.com's audience continues to grow, but it may be hampered eventually by the fact that the CNBC television's audience has dropped sharply. And CNBC.com has not pushed to the edge of reader entertainment at anywhere near the rate that Business Insider has.

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CNNMoney draws on the work of its own editorial staff, as well as content from Time Inc.'s Money and Fortune. Like CNBC, it has avoided the promise of gaudy entertainment. That may be best for a venture built by a traditional content company like Time Warner Inc. (TWX). CNNMoney has avoided becoming the tinder box that Business Insider already is. And CNNMoney may have enough difficulty soon as Time Inc. is spun out of Time Warner, and Fortune and Money become part of an organization different from CNN's parent. At that point, CNNMoney might have to reinvent itself. In the process it is likely to benchmark Business Insider, as every other large financial site does constantly. But benchmarking often does not result in change, particularly when what is being measured is as avant-garde as Business Insider.

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However significant the risks Business Insider takes, which among them include a habit of occasionally insulting institutions it should want to please, it has become too large to ignore. And it presents the challenge to CNBC and CNNMoney that the safer roads are not always the best ones.

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