Why An Imus-FBN Union Could Work

By Erik Sorenson 

There are reports this week that controversial New York radio host Don Imus may return to national television in a serious way. The New York Times is reporting that Fox Business Network is in “advanced negotiations” to land a simulcast of the “Imus in the Morning” radio show (WABC in New York is the flagship station)–airing from 6am-9am. One observer noted that the move would be vintage Roger Ailes, as the loyal Imus audience would provide some ratings traction for the fledgling network, some built-in promotion for the business day, and some buzz.

When yours truly was running MSNBC (’98-2004) Imus was our morning show for those same hours and performed a similar function. He brought sampling and buzz, especially during election years. Of course, eventually (2007) the whole thing crashed and burned in the media frenzy that followed his inappropriate remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. (Like Michael Vick, Don has done his penance which included an off-the-air exile, repeated on-air mea culpas, the hiring of African-American cast members, and a running dialogue on his new WABC program about race relations in the US.) Don’s efforts, plus time–and his hiring by Citadel Radio and WABC– have helped pave the way, first for RFD-TV to simulcast a television version–and now, for Fox Business Network.

But would it work? In a word–yes. While not as large as before, Imus still has a tremendous following which prefers television at home (and at the gym, and at the office.) Though FBN is only distributed so far in 50 million homes (compared to 97 million for CNBC, and almost that many when he was kicked off MSNBC)–he wouldl quickly get a rating that Nielsen can actually measure (currently, Nielsen says the audience isn’t large enough to reliably measure during those hours on FBN.) Secondly, the political cycle earlier this decade didn’t work in Imus’ favor because the Bush Administration (other than the war, and that got old) didn’t give media much to chew on. That’s not the case with Obama, who has a big agenda and talks about it constantly. Thirdly, the economy is actually interesting right now, which would be good for Imus and Fox.


Finally, there is the Ailes Factor. Roger and his capable lieutenant Kevin Magee (EVP of the network) would get the maximum value of out Imus, his all-star guest list, and the potential increase in appearances by Fox stars. On the other hand, this would do little to aid the alleged truce between Fox and MSNBC. There is no love lost between Don and his ex-employer, NBC, and Don has never been easy to “muzzle.” His “charm”–and much of his success in recent years–is due to his candor, which could on full display on Fox in time for the 2010 off-year election.

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.com.