Fox Business Network Rode Murdoch’s Millions, a Populist Message and Trump to No. 1

How FBN overtook CNBC in the ratings race

In 2013, Maria Bartiromo was wooed to Fox Business Network from CNBC.
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In 1996 Rupert Murdoch had an idea: He was going to launch a TV news network to take on CNN. Five years after it went on the air, Fox News was regularly beating CNN in the Nielsen ratings. And still does.

In 2007, when Murdoch decided to create a TV business network to take on CNBC, few thought that lightning could strike twice. The field was getting increasingly crowded. Digitally distributed content was the future. Besides, who needs another business TV channel?

Murdoch spent millions to build Fox Business Network, wooing big-name talent from competitors and securing cable distribution. “I was always telling Rupert ‘don’t do it, don’t do it,’” the late Roger Ailes told Adweek in 2015.

As it celebrates its 10th anniversary this week, FBN is on top of the business TV news ratings race among total viewers. With heavy emphasis on the presidential election and first months of the Trump administration, FBN has been the most-watched business news channel for the last year. (CNBC, however, continues to lead among younger viewers, which matters most to advertisers.) It also has 17 times more advertisers today than it did at launch, turning its first profit in 2011.

According to FBN anchor, svp and managing editor Neil Cavuto, it was the November 2015 Republican presidential debate—the first hosted by FBN—that proved a critical turning point in the network’s rise to the top.

“People who knew little about us had a chance to see us,” said Cavuto. “We were measured, focused and clear without one hint of drama.”

What has continued to make FBN stand out from its TV and digital competitors is “perspective,” he added.

“No one connects Wall Street with Main Street the way we do,” Cavuto explained. “All I know is far more of us pay taxes than own stock. We get both. We report both.”

Critics, meanwhile, charge that FBN’s success is due in large part to its nonstop, mostly supportive coverage of Trump. According to a TVEyes analysis, last week, Trump was mentioned 390 times during FBN’s program day compared to 172 times on CNBC.

Looking ahead, a challenge for FBN—and one faced by all news channels—is its aging audience. FBN’s average viewer is 68 years old, a year older than CNBC’s. Network president Brian Jones said that getting younger viewers to tune in is his No. 1 priority.

“Our content will matter regardless of the platform on which it’s ultimately presented,” Cavuto predicted. “If what we offer remains compelling, we always will be.”

 

This story first appeared in the Oct. 9, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.