Fox Business Network aims for mass appeal
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Viewers have yet to see a single show, but the power of Rupert Murdoch's name has convinced some that his Fox Business Network has a shot at succeeding, even if it won't dislodge U.S. business cable news leader CNBC just yet.
News Corp's Fox Business Network (FBN) goes live to 30 million American homes on October 15 at 5 a.m. EDT, with a mission to take Wall Street to Main Street and forge a new audience for business news.
"When someone asks 'Who are you targeting?' I say, 'Everyone,"' Neil Cavuto, Fox News managing director of business news, said in an interview. "I don't know why or where it's written that business news has been relegated to ... old white men with money."
FBN's creation defies some well-established industry logic. Business news lacks mass appeal, the logic goes, as evident by Time Warner Inc.'s decision to shutter the CNNfn channel in 2004. The U.S. economy may be headed to recession. And the market already has a well established incumbent in
"Historically, financial channels on cable have done well in boom markets and crashes, and terribly in bear markets," independent network news analyst Andrew Tyndall said.
That hasn't daunted advertisers from putting their money into the ring, even though ad buyers courted for the launch say they have seen little more than PowerPoint presentations trumpeting the past successes of sibling channel Fox News.
FBN has signed up more business than the first nine months after Fox News' 1996 launch, including Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and discount brokers Scottrade, a Fox News spokeswoman said. Sprint Nextel, Fidelity and IBM have signed on for Web advertising deals, she said.
"I would never bet against them with what they did with the news network," said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast at media buying firm Carat. "They've got a good track record of taking a small thing and making it big."
Some two years in the making, FBN has become a top priority for News Corp after its $5 billion purchase of Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co Inc.
CNBC has an editorial pact with Dow Jones that prevents the Journal's reporters from appearing on FBN until 2012, but many expect the purchase to eventually fuel Murdoch's channel.
Few dispute that FBN faces a daunting incumbent in CNBC, with three times the staff and an 18-year head start. CNBC, part of the NBC Universal unit controlled by General Electric Co, generates over $300 million in annual cash flow, according to media research firm SNL Kagan.
"The question really isn't about our preparation or whether we're ready," CNBC President Mark Hoffman told Reuters. "The real question is whether Fox is ready for CNBC."
Cavuto admitted the challenge is "Herculean, to put it mildly."
CAPITALISM IS GOOD
For now, the halo cast on the launch comes primarily from the reputations of Murdoch and Fox News President Roger Ailes, who built a name outfoxing rivals by defying convention.
The industry once scoffed after Murdoch launched America's fourth broadcast television network Fox, now home to top-rated show "American Idol," and again after launching Fox News, whose ratings surpassed CNN in its fourth year.
On the business side, Fox News already showcases "Your World with Neil Cavuto" and five of the other most-watched financial programs on cable television.
"They've got a great management and programming team. I think they'll be successful," said Derek Baine, senior analyst at SNL Kagan.
Ailes, a former strategist for U.S. Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, created a new market with Fox News, by spotlighting brash and opinionated hosts, such as Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, who garnered huge audiences.
In the process, Ailes, who helped build CNBC before arriving at Fox News, cultivated a new generation of anchors, including Shepard Smith, Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly.
The big question is whether the contrarian style and populist appeal of Fox News will translate to business media.
"One thing I discovered about money is it knows no political pedigree," said Cavuto, who wore a U.S. flag pendant on his lapel and referred to the often-used symbols of the Republican and Democratic parties. "It's not a matter of elephant or donkey, it's green."
As Fox sees it, straight talk, a zeal for capitalism and a mission to turn the arcane language of Wall Street into money-making and saving ideas underpins FBN's approach.
FBN also aims to give capitalists the benefit of the doubt even while stories of corporate fraud frequent the airwaves.
"I'm not saying they're all saints," Cavuto said. "All I try to do ... is to remind people to be very careful making generalities."
Fox News executive vice president Kevin Magee explained another key difference: "I always felt like instead of trying to make the smartest audience it has ever been, they (CNBC) try to make the audience think of them as the smartest anchors they've ever seen. We're not going to do that."
FBN has taken its cue from CNBC in assembling one of TV's more attractive lineups of news anchors. Blogs have already dubbed the channel "Foxy Business."
Asked if Fox has courted CNBC's so-called "Money Honeys" -- Maria Bartiromo and Erin Burnett -- Magee said not if they were still in contract. "I'm of the belief that TV doesn't need stars as much as it makes stars," he added.
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