Fox Business Network Says It’s Ready to Fight

NEW YORK In the lead-up to the launch of the hotly anticipated Fox Business Network, details about what viewers can expect when the channel goes live on Oct. 15 were obscured behind a scrim of metaphor, as News Corp. executives sketched the broad contours of the initiative with vivid references to warfare, conquest and populism.

And while media buyers were prepped with the same sort of ambiguities, that hasn’t stopped them from lining up to get their clients a place at the table.

Among the high-profile advertisers who have signed on with FBN are a number of endemics (Scottrade, Nationwide, MasterCard, LendingTree), a demo-friendly pharmaceutical player (Bristol-Myers Squibb) and a travel giant (Southwest Airlines). Moreover, the net’s Web site, FoxBusiness.com, has rung up business with IBM, Fidelity and Sprint. Scottrade is the only client so far to buy on-air and online.

That flexibility is emblematic of how FBN plans to do business, said Paul Rittenberg, senior vp, ad sales at Fox News. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I don’t dictate to people how they should spend their money,” he said. “We’re not pushing any packages on anyone. IBM, Fidelity and Sprint haven’t committed to TV yet and that’s fine.”

Rittenberg said his team has already booked more business in the pre-launch phase than Fox News Channel did in its first nine months, and that influx of capital came without locking clients into mandatory cross-net deals. “We could have brought in an additional $20 million to $25 million if we had packaged FBN with FNC in the upfront, but that’s not the game plan,” he said. “If this network is going to succeed, it has to stand on its own.”

Of course, FBN’s prospects pivot on whether it can put up numbers against CNBC, which has an 18-year head start in the business-news steeplechase. Besides the obvious advantages that come from competing in an open field (since CNNfn went dark in 2004, CNBC’s only direct rival has been Bloomberg Television), the NBC-owned net has also enjoyed the perks of brand building.

Since its launch in April 1989, CNBC has built its market valuation to around $4 billion and now takes in some $250 million in annual ad sales. While FBN has its sights locked in on CNBC (Fox News president and founder Roger Ailes has compared the entrenched CNBC to Germans who failed to defend Normandy on D-Day), some News Corp. execs have been far less bellicose in their assessment of the competition.

Senior vp of business news Neil Cavuto is keeping his powder dry, eschewing any fighting words in favor of a more reflective emphasis on the democratization of the marketplace.

“A lot of business programming is heavy on jargon and very light on anything of value to average folks who are also interested in the market,” Cavuto said. “Unlike our competitors, we’re not going to dismiss them by saying that this is just for the brokers and the hedge fund managers. We’re not going to talk over peoples’ heads.”

Cavuto didn’t offer any detail on FBN programming, but said the network shares significant genetic material with the five extant business-news shows on its sibling net: Bulls & Bears, Cavuto on Business, Forbes on Fox, Cashin’ In and Your World With Neil Cavuto.

As part of a PowerPoint presentation designed to reacquaint buyers with the FNC success story, Rittenberg noted that those shows are not only the top-rated business news programs among adults 25-54, but they also deliver the biggest payload of upscale viewers.

And, of course, News Corp.’s latest acquisition, The Wall Street Journal, will offer an ample reservoir of content down the line.

If explicit information about the FBN lineup was in short supply, buyers said they imagine their curiosity will be satisfied in due course. “We still want to see what the product is and kick the tires a little bit,” said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast at Carat. “They have a better than average shot at making it work,” he added, noting News Corp.’s track record with network launches.

For its part, CNBC has demonstrated a somewhat muted response. On Oct. 1, the network reshuffled its post-market lineup—a seismic shift that was mentioned in a memo president Mark Hoffman circulated to staffers just two days later.

(A recap of CNBC’s third-quarter performance, Hoffman’s memo also did not include any mention of FBN.)

“We’re always going to be in a competitive space,” said CNBC vp, global sales and marketing Robert Foothorap. “As far as our strategy is concerned, we’re going to continue to provide the best possible information for our viewers: fast, accurate and unbiased.”

Rittenberg’s first sales target for FBN is $50 million, and while that’s a fair chunk of change, buyers believe there’s enough business to go around. “CNBC, Bloomberg … they’re safe,” Donchin said. “There’s definitely room in here for another player.”