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A few days before the GOP debate on Fox Business Network–its first-ever presidential primary debate–we sat down with FNC and FBN CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes. The interview was tied to Ailes’ selection as Adweek’s Media Visionary for 2015. One of the topics that didn’t make it into the magazine was about how he is trying to make the 8-year-old business network a success.
Adweek: Do you think Fox Business can truly be in a place where they can overtake CNBC?
Ailes: It’s been a much slower start. If you go back and read the press around the time we launched I was always telling Rupert [Murdoch] ‘don’t do it, don’t do it.’ I dragged my feet for a long time, because I said ‘look we’re walking into a climate on business news where there is simply no demand for it.’ But one of the things I love about Rupert is he’s an eternal optimist. So he signed off on a billion dollars like he was ordering a ham sandwich. He bets on people or he bets on his own vision. And you have to face several problems with business news: Is there an appetite for business news on television? Who is that audience specifically? Do you want a market-oriented operation or a consumer-oriented operation? Do you want a bunch of intelligent former stockbrokers on the air or what do you want? You have to play to the Indiana old ladies investment club and you have to play to Wall Street. So it’s tough. It’s a tough grind.
Adweek: With the debate you’ll be exposed to many millions of people…
Ailes: And they’re going to find I have the best anchors and the best on-air talent…
Adweek: And that’s what this is about?
Ailes: Well that’s a plus. I work better with talent. I have a good eye for talent and my talent performs the best. Once we hit a critical mass on the number of subs we had (FBN is currently in more than 80 million homes), I changed the entire lineup to put Maria [Bartiromo] in, who is very advertiser-friendly. Even if the numbers aren’t there, they love her. And you got [Neil] Cavuto, whose numbers are good. [Stuart] Varney whose numbers area good. And after watching all the channels for a long time I selected Trish Regan to be a breakout talent in the fourth block. Nobody could quite understand that and she’s proven to be great. And I selected her to be in one of the debates. So far it’s been working perfectly.
In the two weeks since the debate, FBN has experienced growth in business day (9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.), up +26 percent in total viewers (averaging 106,000 from 84,000) and up +17 percent in the demo (averaging 14,000 from 12,000) vs. the two weeks before the debate.