Four Years In, Fox Business Network Still Treading Water

Latest ratings show channel struggling to find viewers

It was an abysmal month for Fox News' young sibling channel. Fox Business Network saw an average daily viewership of around 65,000 for October, according to Nielsen, which also happened to be the month of the network's four-year anniversary.

In its target 25-54 demo, though, Fox Business only drew an average of 10,000 viewers per day. This, compared to the network's chief competitor, CNBC, which saw around 201,000 viewers on average and 59,000 in the 25-54 age group. A source familiar with the network says that four years in, they expected Fox Business to be performing "a lot better than 10,000 in the target demo."

Adding to the network's woes is the fact that Don Imus' program, Imus in the Morning, which Fox Business debuted in 2009 as the network's daily morning kickoff program, is performing miserably—with an average of just 5,000 daily viewers in the target demographic for the month and 90,000 total viewers. By comparison, Squawk Box, which airs on FBN's chief competitor CNBC at the same time as Imus' show, received 179,000 total viewers on average for the month and outdelivered Imus in the target demographic by 1,200 percent, with 65,000 viewers. 

There is one relatively bright spot for Fox Business—its early prime-time 4 p.m.-8 p.m. slate, which includes shows like Cavuto and Lou Dobbs Tonight. The network pulled around 85,000 average daily viewers for the month, including 12,000 viewers in its target demographic, during those hours. But even that figure is still well behind the 212,000 total viewers CNBC received for that same time slot.

Fox Business Network executive vice president Kevin Magee is trying to put a positive spin on the numbers, saying things aren't as bad as they seem. "I always want better ratings than I have," he told Adweek. "[But] the trend is up for us." Magee pointed out that the network's ratings are "significantly up from October a year ago—up 38 percent year to year." As for the network's ratings compared to its competition, Magee downplayed the importance of target demographic ratings altogether, saying, "I would respectfully tell you that the actual makeup of our audience is pretty terrific. We have the most affluent audience in basic cable. We’ve got people with money, and we attract some very, very high-end advertisers." Measuring success on the basis of whether the network is reaching its the 25-54 age group "might be an outdated measurement," Magee said.

The ratings trouble at Fox Business follows on the heels of an incident earlier in the month when Reuters obtained a memo Magee had sent the network's staff instructing them to focus much more on business news and much less on the sort of political fodder that's become Fox News Channel's signature. "I've been asked to remind you all again that they are separate channels, and the more we make [Fox Business Network] look like [Fox News Channel] the more of a disservice we do to ourselves," Reuters quoted Magee as writing in the memo. "I understand the temptation to imitate our sibling network in hopes of imitating its success, but we cannot." That note to staff led some to question whether Fox News chief Roger Ailes was looking to set Fox Business Network on something of a course correction.

In speaking with Adweek, Magee sought to downplay the importance of what he'd written. "I think the memo got a little more play than it deserved," he said. "We have said from the beginning that we have to be the Fox Business Network." As for whether he's happy with Imus, who has battled rumors surrounding his job security at the network in the past, Magee said, "Don brought an audience to us that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise . . . I'm not out thinking, 'I have to replace Imus.' By the way, he’s on a contract. There is that too."