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Fox Business Network Enters Cable News Race

October 15, 2007 at 6:40 PM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: This is the newest arrival in the Fox family. Today, Fox Business Network, or FBN, was born at 5:00 a.m. Eastern time.

DAVID ASMAN, Fox Business Network Host: Well, the first of the baby boomers signed up for Social Security benefits.

JEFFREY BROWN: The News Corporation offspring will air seven days a week, 24 hours a day. News Corp’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, and Fox News CEO Roger Ailes have been working on this project for two years and invested $100 million in it.

FBN has lined up major cable and satellite operators in top markets around the country to reach a potential 30 million people so far. The network is based in New York and has bureaus in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington and London.

In addition to the new FBN, Fox News operates Fox News Radio, FoxNews.com, and Fox News Channel, number one in cable news ratings for over five years.

FBN now goes up against cable business news leader CNBC, part of the NBC family, which has the capability of reaching 90 million homes in the U.S. and has broadcast news and talk shows around the clock since 1989.

Bloomberg Television, the other dedicated business news channel, is known for its popularity with Wall Street professionals.

TV HOST: The Dow right now down 115 points…

JEFFREY BROWN: CNN also continues to present business shows focused on the markets and personal finance, but CNN’s experience also shows that the business of business news isn’t foolproof. CNNfn, the network’s attempt to create a separate business news channel, folded in 2004 after nine years due to low ratings.

Officials at the new Fox Business Network say they want to appeal to the average American, affected by business news but not necessarily tuned into it.

Growing market for business news

JEFFREY BROWN: And more now from Andrew Leckey, director of the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at Arizona State University. He's a longtime syndicated investment columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a former anchor at CNBC.

Well, now, I was just throwing out some large numbers there, 30 million potential viewers, 90 million households. But, in fact, the viewership for business news now is quite small, right?

ANDREW LECKEY, Arizona State University: It's been improving a bit for CNBC, and that's why Fox is interested at this point. CNBC made about $350 million last year. Fox thinks it can build things together to gain much more than that in a much larger market.

JEFFREY BROWN: But in terms of numbers, is it more about the ratings or who these people are? Tell us who's watching CNBC right now, for example.

ANDREW LECKEY: The positive part of the CNBC viewership is that it is very high income. You can tell from the ads it's folks who have money. And it's a very elite group that people want to focus their advertising on. And so the big strength is in the advertising.

However, Fox, you have to get as many people as you want, and if you're starting something new, you really want to pitch it to as many people as possible, because it isn't as if ratings don't exist at all.

Reaching beyond Wall Street

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Rupert Murdoch said recently that, "CNBC is for Wall Street, and we are for Main Street." Now, what do you think he means by that?

ANDREW LECKEY: Well, I think he wants as broad an audience as possible. Rupert Murdoch has something that virtually no American media companies or companies that own media outlets have, and that is patience and money.

Eventually, when the Wall Street Journal can be a part of this -- they have a contract with CNBC for a while -- but eventually he sees this as a much larger international pot which he can tap into. So his expectation is, he's saying a broader audience, because you certainly don't want a smaller, more confined audience. But on the other hand, the more people he can bring in and the more he can use the Fox News Channel to bring people into Fox Business news the better.

JEFFREY BROWN: But I wonder, is there a sense that there is a large, untapped audience for business news out there?

ANDREW LECKEY: Well, in today's programming, you will notice they had the naked cowboy on Times Square. They tried a few wacky things. But they had some real entrepreneurs who were serious, Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots, Tony Hawk and skateboarding, Oscar De La Hoya, Charles Schwab, Carly Fiorina, so it had some serious guests in there, but it is trying to show that is more fun. That seemed to be one of the themes today, fun.

And I also noticed that CNBC, they were a little higher energy today. There's been a whole lot more activity seeming on that sort of the board, too, although Jim Cramer of "Mad Money" was still throwing pies at CEOs, so CNBC can't get too high and mighty about things.

Battling for good guests

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Fox was keeping it fairly secret as to what kind of programming they were going to have. So what you saw today was focusing -- the difference was fun, that's the biggest difference so far?

ANDREW LECKEY: So far, fun. And it's obviously going to be a battle of the bookers of guests and eventually the agents representing talent on air, because everyone seems to be hustling now. We're going to see a big difference, more scoops on business topics. We're going to see more exclusives. It's going to be a lot like what you may see on local news, where people are fighting to get ratings by doing something first and doing something different. And we haven't had much of that in the past.

JEFFREY BROWN: You know, the rise of business news was often seen as connected to the rise of the number of Americans invested in the market, as more of us had our 401(k)s as opposed to traditional pensions. Is that still the case, in terms of the interests driving the interest in business news on television, in terms of who's watching and what kinds of stories they're being presented?

ANDREW LECKEY: A good indication of the fact that a broader audience is being sought is a particular point being made on the Fox Business channel to explain terms. For example, the term ADR, that might just be mentioned on CNBC in the past, is now mentioned as an American depositary receipt, and explain what it is. And similarly, I thought I noticed CNBC doing a little more definitions today, as well.

I think that frequently mentioning things and showing graphics and elaborating on basic points -- and a lot of the folks they had on as guests are entrepreneurs, and people are as excited in seeing how they made their money as opposed to very specific investments. So they're going for, "Gee whiz, look at how these people made money," but also here are some of the most basic elements of how you should understand your finances.

Now, what we have today is not necessarily what we'll have a month and two months and three months out. Both of the people in charge of these, Roger Ailes at Fox Business news, Mark Hoffman at CNBC, are master strategists. And they're going to be watching each other. They're also going to see what works best, and that's going to be probably a little different network lookout another month from now, another two months, or a year from now.

Murdoch's purchase of Dow Jones

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you mentioned earlier the Wall Street Journal factor, which now has a contract with CNBC. But, of course, Mr. Murdoch has purchased Dow Jones, the owner of Wall Street Journal. How is that seen down the line, in terms of affecting this competition for business journalism on television?

ANDREW LECKEY: I noticed, in listening to some of the news reports, that Fox today was frequently referencing the Wall Street Journal and Wall Street Journal stories. Now, I don't know if that's foreshadowing of what's to come in the future. They really have that agreement between the Wall Street Journal and CNBC until 2012.

But, of course, we would imagine, in the same way they'll be trying to deal with that and trying to shorten that, in the same way that now Fox is dealing with cable operators, I'm sure it's an all-out onslaught to try to get it in more homes and also to try to get that Wall Street Journal family together so that they can really, really present it in their publicizing of it.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you said that Rupert Murdoch is known for taking the long view. I read today that one analyst said or predicted that this new Fox Business channel would lose quite a bit of money for at least the first three or four years before it might make some money. So he's going to need to stick with it, I guess.

ANDREW LECKEY: He will. But you remember, Fox News when it started out, when Neil Cavuto left CNBC and went to Fox News, everyone thought he had fallen into the great abyss, but that turned out all right. And I think the same sort of long-term approach is what makes a difference. And, again, that's what a lot of American media companies have not been willing to do.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Andrew Leckey, thank you very much.

ANDREW LECKEY: Thank you.