NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Business Network made its debut on Monday, seeking to broaden the business news audience with interviews with Hillary Clinton, Alan Greenspan and Richard Branson, but initial reactions were lukewarm.
FBN’s move to take Wall Street to Main Street, interspersing business with lifestyle and entertainment spots, underwhelmed media experts who had expected a splashier debut to compete with incumbent cable business news leader CNBC.
Of the three headliners FBN interviewed on its first day, two also appeared on CNBC: former Federal Reserve chief Greenspan and British entrepreneur Branson. Clinton’s interview, taped ahead of time, got cut short due to a glitch.
“I don’t think this will change the entire landscape of American TV as we know it,” said Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University. “So far, this morning, it’s not been terribly exciting.”
To be sure, Fox News was not an overnight hit either. It took four years before it topped CNN’s ratings and has reigned ever since. “Before anyone knew what hit them, Fox News was sitting on top of the heap,” Thompson said.
The launch is part of Murdoch’s plan to dominate global business news coverage on air and in print, and follows News Corp’s $5 billion deal to buy The Wall Street Journal’s publisher, Dow Jones & Co Inc DJ.N.
FBN wasted no time tweaking the nose of the competition. In a dimly lit street across from CNBC’s headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Fox Business stocks editor Elizabeth MacDonald delivered morning news updates.
“Who would’ve thought anyone could cover the stock markets out there -- but here we go,” MacDonald quipped. “It’s hunting season, and we hear that peacocks are in season.”
A multicolored peacock is the corporate logo for CNBC and parent NBC Universal.
Some two years in the making, News Corp’s NWSa.N Fox Business Network airs to a little over 30 million homes in the United States, or under a third of CNBC’s reach.
Murdoch said he is considering launching versions in other countries and plans to invest $300 million over the next three years, by which time he hopes FBN will have beat CNBC in ratings, according to a Fortune report on Monday.
Playing David to the industry Goliath is a familiar role for Fox News President Roger Ailes, who oversees Fox Business.
Ailes ran CNBC until he was poached by Murdoch to launch Fox News in 1996. A staple of brash and opinionated talk shows made Fox News entertaining and helped it beat Time Warner Inc’s (TWX.N) CNN in ratings ever since its fourth year.
Broadcasting from News Corp’s New York headquarters, FBN kicked off its first programming day at 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT). with “Fox Business Morning,” hosted by former Forbes.com reporter Jenna Lee and ex-Bloomberg anchor Nicole Petallides.
They moderated discussions on fast-food chains, such as McDonald’s (MCD.N), mixed with weather and sports updates.
FBN anchor Alexis Glick, vice president of business news, rang the NASDAQ bell and hit New York’s streets to interview tourist fixture, Robert Burck, also know as the Naked Cowboy.
“I get money from everyone on the planet,” said Burck, wearing little more than tight white underwear, cowboy boots and a hat, who also revealed he makes $250,000 a year.
Analysts said FBN has yet to hit its stride.
“There are teething problems,” said independent network news analyst Andrew Tyndall, who added that he found it “hard to watch.” He said he found the tone of some of the reports disturbing: “They appear to have a rooting interest in prices going up. It’s normally not a good sign of journalism when you’re rooting for an outcome.”
Fox Business executives have said they found existing business news coverage to be unfairly negative.
FBN also has said it will seek to demystify Wall Street, helping regular viewers connect global business trends to ordinary people’s lives. “Capitalism cures cancer? Death rates down”, one caption read on Monday.
Even before the deal’s anticipated closing in the next few weeks, Fox Business executives were already drawing comparisons to The Wall Street Journal.
FBN’s managing editor, Neil Cavuto, described how business world developments will be connected to general news. “There’s a column there for the latest business developments and there’s a column for the latest news developments and they live fairly harmoniously together,” he said.
What the channel won’t have at launch is actual Wall Street Journal business reporters. An agreement with General Electric Co’s (GE.N) CNBC prevents Journal business reporters from appearing on Fox Business until the contract ends in 2012.