CNBC in fourth year of profit growth

Coverage of financial crisis draws eyes online, abroad

NEW YORK -- CNBC is in its fourth year of double digital profit growth, president Mark Hoffman said here Wednesday, highlighting that the network's coverage of the financial crisis elevated its viewership abroad and reach in digital media to new heights.

Speaking at the annual UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, Hoffman also said he is excited about CNBC's outlook under the likely future ownership by Comcast, which is looking to acquire a 51% in parent company NBC Universal.

Current majority owner GE has never interfered and has been very supportive of CNBC, he told the Wall Street crowd. And the time he has spent with Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and COO Steve Burke "has laid a tremendous foundation for where we're headed," Hoffman argued.

He also mentioned that the two Comcast leaders are users of CNBC's TV and online offers. "I feel very good about it," he summarized his take on the deal.

Asked about the effect that competition from Fox Business and Bloomberg TV has had on CNBC, Hoffman said: "We haven't seen any impact on the top line. ... We're in our fourth year of double digital record-breaking profits."

Asked about ratings gains amid the financial crisis, he said the initial effect was a "spectacular audience" that allowed the second-most profitable NBC Uni channel behind USA to temporarily go "from a niche channel to really a populist channel."

The usual 300,000 or so average viewership per hour in measured homes, which exclude trading floors and the like, at times jumped to more than 1 million during the crisis, he said.

CNBC's international channels in Europe and Asia and digital businesses -- from to mobile -- benefited from user spikes, boosting longer-term usage to new highs even after the crisis, according to Hoffman.

What about advertising trends? Auto and financial advertisers are key for CNBC, and many pulled back amid the crisis and recession, Hoffman said. "They are back now," he added.

The current fourth quarter has been "much better" than thought in the U.S., and Europe has also done well, according to the CNBC boss. And first-quarter 2010 trends seem similar. "We're cautious, but we're optimistic," Hoffman said.