Business TV for the people - with some pants thrown in
Rupert Murdoch's new channel launched last week with a mission to win viewers beyond Wall Street and the City. Simon Evans tuned in
Sunday 21 October 2007
For most people, business channels are a prosaic diversion on the way to Sky Sports or the latest soap opera. Bloomberg, CNBC and the like may have garnered decent enough followings in the financial community, but Joe Public isn't paying attention.
Amid great fanfare and razzmatazz last week, Rupert Murdoch's Fox Business news channel went live in New York with the brief of capturing those people who are either indifferent to the workings of capitalism or suspicious of it.
At the trifling launch cost of $200m (£100m), Mr Murdoch has his eye on the estimated $2bn advertising spend that has gone the way of business channels in the past year.
The first week featured a rollout of business big hitters including Sir Richard Branson and the Sage of Omaha himself, Warren Buffet, who treated us to details of the sale of his 10 per cent stake in one of China's biggest companies coupled with views on the New York Yankees baseball team.
Wedged in between this diverse fare was an interview with Times Square's famous "Naked Cowboy" – a man who strums his guitar in New York each day sporting just a hat, underpants and boots. Viewers were told the Cowboy cleared $250,000 last year, a large chunk of which came from selling his pants – $25 if unused, $50 if worn.
Audiences were also entertained by a chat with Ivanka, the cute 25-year-old daughter of Donald Trump - about her jewellery line rather than her yield curve predictions.
The focus is almost entirely on America. The rest of the world's bourses are a minor footnote in proceedings, although that may change if the channel garners any kind of following Stateside.
Of course, the Fox treatment dictates a cocktail of glamorous female anchors – Nicole Petallides is the station's attempt to steal the thunder of Maria Bartiromo, CNBC's "Money Honey".
Not exactly highbrow stuff then, but blog comments on the website of USA Today suggest it hit the spot with some: "Another hot model to give us the news. Yippee."
Fox Business is very easy to mock but some of the dumbing down is welcome. Although unoriginal, its "jargon buster" features will no doubt help some. And if it goes even a tiny way to dispelling myths that all business is bad then all the better.
But if the channel is trying to poach more serious-minded business watchers then the task looks arduous.
Mr Murdoch may have spent $5bn buying Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, but a deal giving rival channel CNBC first call on the paper's reporters has another five years to run. Already the cracks in that relationship seem to be appearing, with lawyers for Mr Murdoch believed to be searching for ways to wriggle out.
The tycoon unveiled plans to rejuvenate the ailing Journal last week, after it was revealed the paper's ad revenues had slumped by another 3 per cent in the third quarter. His revival plan includes a much-needed revamp of its website, which could become free to win more readers and therefore higher advertising rates. Also under consideration is a greater emphasis on general news and increased coverage of culture – an effort to grab the Hollywood advertising dollar.
Mr Murdoch's plans to grow his interests in America were also boosted by news that regulations governing cross-media ownership are likely to be relaxed in the coming year.
The mogul is deadly serious about making a success of Fox Business and was poaching people from CNBC in Asia well before it went on air. Such factors make it increasingly unlikely that the contract between Dow Jones and CNBC – a company that Mr Murdoch described as "half dead" – will hold.
Fox Business will be available to around 30 million Americans, and some satellite and cable viewers on this side of the Atlantic will also be able to tune in.
It's tacky and it's horribly obvious, with an unashamed "greed is good" philosophy. However, if it shakes up the staid world of business television, it might turn out to be a welcome addition to the schedules.
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