How a ‘Half-Baked Little Operation’ Turned Into a Billion Dollar News Channel

By Chris Ariens 

Fox News is poised to win its 14th straight year as the No. 1 cable news channel when January ratings are released tomorrow.

The winning streak began in January 2002, when Fox News topped CNN for the first time for a full month. It has won every month since among total viewers. We talked with Fox News CEO & chairman Roger Ailes in November, when Adweek named him 2015 Media Visionary. One of the quotes that didn’t make it into our story was about the launch of Fox News in 1996, and how it all began with a phone call from News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch.

Ailes: Rupert said, “Can you build a network that’ll beat CNN?” Now at that time, you had GE and Microsoft were going into MSNBC. You had CNN which was a worldwide brand. They both had unlimited resources. And then Rupert with a kind of half-baked little operation without the money and he said, “Can you beat these guys?” and I said, “Yeah.”

TVNewser: Did you tell him how long it would take?

Ailes: I said, “It’ll take 5 years. In the 6th year I’ll beat them. It’ll cost $900 million or a billion dollars and I could lose it all.” And he never asked me for a business plan. Somehow he trusted me. Or he lost his mind. We did it.

Murdoch announced that he hired Ailes in a news conference on January 30, 1996, 20 years ago this week. SNL Kagan projects Fox News will have $2.54 billion in operating revenue this year, up from $2.39 billion last year.

Update: With January ratings now in, FNC has hit another ratings milestone.