Business Journal

"BUSINESS WORLD NEWS" has attracted some of the most powerful figures in American business and politics - people like Intel Corp. founder Andrew Grove and Senator Jay Rockefeller. It has helped influence the passage of national legislation, and may well have caused the stock of one to-be-profiled company to hit a 52-week high. It is hosted by an Emmy-winning broadcaster and appears on such outlets as CNBC, the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel, Bravo and selected CBS affiliate stations.

There's just one difference between "Business World News" and other newsmagazine shows. It's a commercial. Actually, a more appropriate word might be "documercial."

The line between news and promotion on TV has long been a blurry one. P.R. agencies routinely craft "video news releases" (VNRs) about their clients that sometimes find their way into news coverage. A number of documentary-style programs have been criticized for accepting money from the subjects they profile.

But the documercial is a relatively recent phenomenon that is becoming more common as cable networks proliferate.

In fact, it would be nearly impossible to tell the difference between "Business World News," produced by Studio City-based TVA Productions, and a conventional TV newsmagazine. It is a 30-minute show, hosted by a pair of Los Angeles TV anchors, that profiles from one to five companies, usually in five-minute segments.

TVA buys time to air the show from the stations and networks in 30-minute segments, just like infomercial producers do. The companies profiled have paid from $10,000 to $150,000 {for licensing of 10 to 30-minute segments}. A shorter version is edited down for broadcast on "Business World News," while {Licensees} get to keep video and CD-ROM copies of the longer segment for their own promotional purposes.

The show is hosted by Mario Machado {now Mark Kriski}, an Emmy-winning broadcaster, and Penny Griego, a former anchor on KCBS-TV Channel 2 who played a TV news reporter in "Volcano" and "Mighty Joe Young."

Lending further credibility to the show are the heavy hitters who have appeared, such as Grove and Rockefeller, as well as former David E. Kelley Productions President Jeffrey Kramer and high-level executives from Boeing Co., Motorola and IBM. Each potential client is screened through TVA's editorial committee, which is made up of "award-winning writers, producers, directors, editors, and P.R. execs"...

Texas stock is touted
In at least one case, the show's influence might not have involved an actual broadcast. On Dec. 29 and 30, PR Newswire put out a press release announcing that Adair International Oil and Gas Inc., a company in Houston whose stock normally trades for pennies had been selected by "Business World News" as a "high growth company for the new millennium." By Jan. 3, the stock had hit a 52-week high, closing at $1.14, up from 20 cents on Dec. 28.

Whether or not the uptick was due to the "Business World News" release, executives with several other companies believe they have benefited from their association with the show.

One such company is Long Beach-based Senior Care Action Network (SCAN), a non-profit "social HMO" that was the subject of an entire 30-minute episode.

The reporters at "Business World News" convinced Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, and Rockefeller, D-W. Va, to do interviews on the segment.

SCAN provides full long-term care benefits - such as for the services of housekeepers, cooks, and personal assistants - so that people who would otherwise be forced to move into a nursing home can live at home. These benefits are paid for by Medicare, but SCAN had a cap on its enrollment of 36,000. The "Business World News" segment was used as part of a lobbying effort to get the cap raised.

Ultimately, Congress did vote to raise the cap. While SCAN spokesman Paul Kenkel can't say for sure that the "Business World News" segment was the cause, he says it certainly helped.

Selection process cited
Officials with TVA insist that they don't just profile any company with a checkbook. Each potential client is screened through TVA's executive selection committee, which is made up of "award-winning writers, producers, directors, editors, and P.R. execs" according to TVA's marketing materials.

The selection committee is chaired by Jeffery Goddard, former news anchor for KBYU TV. He's a long-time member of the Production Executives Committee for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; NATPE (National Association of Television Program Executives); a frequent judge for the Emmy Awards and owner of TVA Productions.

TVA started out in 1987 as a producer of direct-response video brochures - marketing videos, usually for cars, computers or cruise lines, that are mailed to potential customers just like a direct mail piece. It later expanded to a variety of production ventures and now the majority of its business comes from creating 70-mm water-screen films - movies that are projected onto a screen made out of water spray. Goddard believes that by the end of 2000, the documercials will make up the majority of TVA's business.

"We don't have a Stone Phillips, like on 'Dateline,' but we're getting there," Goddard said. "We want to have a 'Dateline' level of recognition and credibility."