While a number of fund companies set up in-house TV studios during the heady 1990s to take advantage of the booming market, a second wave of firms building studios has begun. But this time, the main objective is to compete and distinguish themselves in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

The real boom for starting in-house TV studios began in the late 1990s and ran four or five years before leveling off, but interest today still remains strong, said Bill Blase, president of W.T. Blase & Associates of New York. Firms that werent able to do so before may have some extra cash on hand to build a studio now, he said.

Since setting up a studio this past June, Rydex Investments of Rockville, Md., has conducted seven interviews in the past two months, compared to a total of seven in all of 2005. With a prep time of just 10 to 15 minutes, all the interviewee has to do is put on an earpiece. Before, we would have to turn down interview requests because it would require employees to travel for a half a day or longer, said Lori Klash, Rydexs public relations manager.

Now we have greater exposure to the market, and we can give an interview at a moments notice. Rydex has worked closely with CNBC thus far, booking its portfolio managers and analysts on the station to discuss a variety of topics ranging from the popular exchange-traded funds to currency investing.

In January, The Hartford built a studio in an unused room at its Hartford, Conn., headquarters, equipped with a camera, lighting, a Hartford logo backdrop and a teleprompter. We can get a call from a producer from one of the financial networks and be on the air worldwide in a matter of minutes, said Victoria OBrien, a Hartford spokeswoman. The ease with which we can put our spokespeople on the air has resulted in more requests, and The Hartford has become an even more common presence on trading floors, offices and homes around the globe.

Additionally, another purpose for having an in-house studio is to produce video webcasts for clients to view online. The studio lets us communicate using video [over] the Internet, to [reach] our affiliates, customers and other stakeholders, OBrien said.

Investment management firms BlackRock of New York and ING Investment Management of Amsterdam are also in the process of installing TV studios. The ING camera will be set up on its trading floor in New York to facilitate interviews with portfolio managers, beginning in the near future, said Tracey Gordon, an ING spokeswoman. Baltimore-based Legg Mason also recently set up an in-house TV studio. A Legg Mason spokeswoman confirmed the studio launch but declined further comment. A BlackRock spokesman did not return calls for comment.

Watertown, Mass.-based VideoLink has built a number of studios, which it calls ReadyCam, at firms offices, handing all of the broadcast feeds and maintaining the equipment. In fact, VideoLink handles the in-house TV studios for Rydex, The Hartford, BlackRock and Legg Mason, among others. ReadyCam is controlled from a remote location, and it does not require operations to be handled where the interview is taking place, said Jonathan Robbins, director of sales. ReadyCam has remote studio locations in Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

It also saves money for the TV networks as they dont have to send out a camera crew and team, so its a win-win situation for all. ReadyCam works with Bloomberg, CNBC and CNN, among other broadcasters. The cost to start a studio is in the five-figures, and the annual maintenance fee is low, Robbins declining to be more specific.

In-house studios are more economical than print advertisements and are very time effective. Additionally, they are a great way for firms not close to a television studio to get their name out and their voice heard. Its the perfect way to reach thousands more people. It is literally a billboard, as the companys name is usually situated behind the interviewee, Blase said.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., has suggested that Fox News will launch a financial TV news broadcast similar to CNBC and Bloomberg, pushing yet more firms into the median and creating more of an incentive for firms to start TV studios, Robbins said.

(c) 2006 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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