Fox Business Network Debuts

Fox Business Morning anchors Jenna Lee, left, and Nicole Petallides discuss financial news on Monday, Oct. 15, 2007 in New York.
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Rupert Murdoch has entered a dark horse in high-stakes races before, and won.

On Monday, the News Corp. media titan trots out the Fox Business Network. Two years in the making, the channel will challenge General Electric Co.'s highly profitable CNBC network as it seeks to redefine business news for average Americans faced with increasingly complex decisions about their financial futures.

Murdoch already has knocked CNN off the cable news throne with Fox News Channel. Can he do the same to NBC Universal's profit machine, whose audience of affluent professionals is one of the most sought-after advertising targets?

"CNBC has a monopoly on an in-demand demographic, but never underestimate Murdoch," said Porter Bibb, a managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, a financier of media businesses. "Success might take a while, but this is the right thing for them to do."

Fox defines success - aside from ratings - as expanding the business news audience by "demystifying" the subject, according to Kevin Magee, the Fox News executive vice president in charge of the new business channel. There are plenty of people not watching business news because it's presented in an "off-putting" way, he said.

On opening day, the station declared its approach more Main Street than Wall Street, but showed off some risky business, too, CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace reports. There was an interview with Times Square's infamous "Naked Cowboy," and chats with traders during happy hour at a bar.

Magee would not disclose the programming schedule, citing competitive concerns. But FBN's flashy Web site promises the network will cut through jargon to speak to the average investor, echoing comments by Murdoch last month that his channel will be for Main Street instead of Wall Street.

Other executives at Fox News have said CNBC is not friendly enough to business and focuses too much on scandal instead of positive corporate deeds.

They "intend to target middle America," said Chris Roush, a business journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That likely means coverage of such topics as how to save for retirement or get the lowest credit card rates, or when is the right time to buy a house, he said.

Bibb said that strategy could attract a solid audience: "Every poll shows that people are concerned with economics above all else, except maybe war."

Fox Business managing editor Neil Cavuto told Wallace: "There's a pool of money but more importantly, a pool of underserved viewers out there."

Although CNBC says it's not worried - "The question isn't whether we're ready for them, but whether they're ready for CNBC," said network president Mark Hoffman - it has already made changes that some see as a reaction to Fox. CNBC has added a business newsmagazine, retooled its pre-market show "Squawk Box" and added the personal investing program "Fast Money." Personal finance guru Suze Orman has been hired for a weekend show.

Bloomberg TV, the only other dedicated business network, also has recently spruced up its shows, putting more anchors on TV and less scrolling data.

The tactic of selling business news to the consumer has failed before - CNNfn folded two years ago. Roush said CNN didn't invest enough time or money in the channel, a mistake Murdoch is not likely to repeat.

Magee wouldn't disclose any cost figures or a timeline for reaching profitability at FBN. SNLKagan media analyst Derek Baine estimates FBN will lose about $185 million over four years before posting a profit in 2011. But Murdoch has shown he is willing to spend heavily over long periods to get what he wants.

Murdoch recently surprised the newspaper world with a rich, unsolicited bid for Dow Jones & Co., netting him the crown jewel of business news publications, The Wall Street Journal. He was derided 11 years ago when he started Fox News Channel, but it charged past industry leader CNN in six years and hasn't been caught since. Fox News averages 1.5 million viewers a day, while CNN draws 758,000 - virtually the same number as when it had the field to itself.

Fox thinks it can expand the total number of niche viewers again, playing down the idea of a direct competition with CNBC. "Our goal is essentially to broaden the pie that watches business news," Magee said.

In charge of the new network is Roger Ailes, the man credited with changing cable news by making Fox News a personality-driven channel. He also ran CNBC in the early 1990s. Neil Cavuto, the popular Fox News Channel host with the highest-rated business program on cable, is managing editor of business news and will also work as an anchor.

Many of his colleagues are attractive young women with backgrounds in news and business, led by Alexis Glick, a former CNBC correspondent and co-host of NBC's Today Show. David Asman, host of Fox News's "Forbes on Fox," is also expected to have a prominent anchor role.