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The new biz kids

Financial news boring? Not if Fox's network -- debuting today -- has anything to say about it.

October 15, 2007|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Among Fox News Channel's influences on television news has been the proliferation of the "swoosh," the dramatic sweeping graphics and loud chime that accompany a breaking news bulletin on the cable network.

So, as its sister Fox Business Network launches today, what kind of attention-grabbing innovations will News Corp.'s latest cable venture introduce?

"We have a klaxon from a World War II submarine, one of those, 'Ah-oo-gahs!' " quipped Kevin Magee, the Fox News executive vice president in charge of the new channel's daily operations.

Jokes aside, early indications suggested that the cable start-up would try to lure viewers with the same flashy, irreverent style that helped propel Fox News past its cable competitors. Executives were tight-lipped about exactly what Fox Business Network would look like when it went live at 2 a.m. PDT, but they vowed to shake off the staid formality of traditional financial coverage. The staff is being drilled on using a conversational style instead of economic jargon, and one daily program will be broadcast live from a popular Wall Street watering hole.

"We don't accept it as a given that business news is inherently boring," said Neil Cavuto, the channel's managing editor and one of its main on-air personalities.

Implicit in the network's approach is a swipe at industry leader CNBC, whose ubiquity in brokerage firms and on trading floors has made it the dominant business cable network as well as a lucrative player for NBC Universal.

FBN executives emphasize that they see CNBC as just one of their competitors amid a crowded business news landscape that includes newspapers, financial websites and Bloomberg Television, a smaller cable outlet.

Nevertheless, the debut of FBN after more than two years of planning is largely being viewed as a direct challenge to CNBC, in part because of the personalities involved.

Fox News chief Roger Ailes, the pugnacious television executive who ran CNBC in the mid-1990s, is now overseeing the launch of its challenger.

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, he compared the matchup to a Civil War battle.

"Fox has a culture unlike any place I've ever been," Magee said. "It's not enough to want to win. You have to hate to lose to work here, and it's got to really bother you."

Executives acknowledge that they face an uphill battle in taking on 18-year-old CNBC. The Fox network will initially be available in 30 million households (including those of Time Warner customers in Los Angeles), a third of CNBC's reach.

While the older network draws an average of just 247,000 viewers during the day, according to Nielsen Media Research, advertisers are willing to pay a premium for the chief executives and other well-heeled viewers that CNBC argues are not measured in the ratings because they watch from their offices. This year, the network is on track to make more than $335 million in profit, up 10% from last year, according to the research firm SNL Kagan.

"We take everyone seriously," said CNBC President Mark Hoffman. "But we're as strong as we've ever been, and we're confident about the future."

Fox executives are hoping News Corp.'s recent purchase of the Journal's parent company will help bolster FBN. Although the newspaper has a deal to provide exclusive business analysis to CNBC until 2012, lawyers are scrutinizing the agreement to see whether there's any wiggle room to bring Journal reporters on in some capacity before that time.

In the meantime, the nascent network is aiming to gain traction by coming at business news from a slightly different tack. The mantra at FBN's Manhattan headquarters: "From Wall Street to Main Street."

"I think we can do a better job of translating difficult concepts and connecting to the viewers in a way that they get something out of it and have some fun," said Alexis Glick, a former CNBC correspondent who is vice president of business news and anchor of FBN's morning program "Money for Breakfast."

"We want people to look at this channel and feel the need to turn the volume up. You should feel the passion, you should feel the energy."

FBN hopes to attract a broad audience by focusing on personal finance issues such as the housing market and small-business needs, emphasizing material success as the realization of the American dream. Upbeat promotional videos on the network's website tout its central themes: "Money," "Success" and "Happiness."

"The hard-core purists who are going to want to know the slightest nuance in the Commodities Research Bureau index or the price of tin in Malaysia, I might disappoint them," Cavuto said. "But the greater audience that wants to get the bigger picture, I hope they'll come to Fox."

The network's more populist approach is partly a matter of necessity, as CNBC is firmly lodged in Wall Street culture.

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