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Fox to join cable TV's crowded business lineup

News Corp. will launch its long-anticipated channel by year-end. Skeptics question the need for another financial network.

February 09, 2007|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Rupert Murdoch has proved naysayers wrong more than once -- and could be in a position to do so again.

The News Corp. chairman on Thursday announced the long-awaited launch of a business channel that will compete with CNBC for the small but lucrative audience interested in financial news.

The Fox Business Channel, in the works for at least two years, will be overseen by Roger Ailes, the hard-charging Fox executive who helped shape CNBC more than a decade ago. It is expected to debut on basic cable in 30 million homes by the end of this year.

That's a fraction of the more than 90 million homes that CNBC reaches in the U.S., but about the scope of Bloomberg Television, the other business news channel.

Skeptics question whether Americans are clamoring for a third business news channel. One such effort, CNNfn, folded in late 2004.

But Ailes said he believed the new network would have far-reaching appeal.

"There are a lot of people out there interested in making money," Ailes said in an interview. "And I think there are a broad number of things you can cover on a business channel."

The new network further expands the portfolio of Ailes, who is chairman and chief executive of Fox News and chairman of Fox Television Stations.

When he launched Fox News in 1996 amid much industry doubt, he assembled a cadre of larger-than-life personalities including Bill O'Reilly and instituted a flashy aesthetic with quick cut-aways and vivid graphics. The formula helped propel the network past CNN in 2002, where it has remained since, although its ratings fell last year.

"Having built Fox News into a cable news leader and a cultural phenomenon against all expectations, I'm confident that Roger Ailes and his team can do the same in business news," Murdoch said in a statement.

Murdoch, who is the CEO and controlling shareholder of News Corp., also refuted cynics in 1985 who were dubious that the Fox TV network could survive as a fourth broadcast network.

The Fox Business Channel is entering the field after a year in which CNBC enjoyed a boost in its ratings and record profit. Though it attracts a relatively small viewership, the NBC Universal cable channel has a virtual lock on the Wall Street audience and is able to command steep ad rates.

"Bring it on," said CNBC spokesman Kevin Goldman. "We're in the best position we've ever been in."

Fox executives divulged little about their programming goals, saying they didn't want to give their competitor a blueprint of their plans. But Murdoch suggested Thursday that the network would have a decidedly different flavor.

"We want to be a little more business-friendly than CNBC," Murdoch said Thursday at a media conference in New York sponsored by McGraw-Hill Cos.

Ailes echoed his boss, although he stressed that the network would not shy away from tough stories.

"I like capitalism," he said. "I like freedom. I like businesses. We're not out to get them. It doesn't mean we won't report bad news."

The new channel's editorial content will be overseen by Neil Cavuto, anchor of Fox News' "Your World" and the network's senior vice president and managing editor of business news. The longtime financial reporter, who worked at CNBC before he joined Fox News in 1996, said he wanted to offer "a more compelling, interesting view of the business world."

Fox executives acknowledged their disadvantage in reach. "I don't come into this with any wishful thinking that we're going to dominate the field," Cavuto said. "I just think the field could use some challenge."

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matea.gold@latimes.com

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