You can understand the confusion. Here I was, channel surfing in search of Rupert Murdoch's newly launched Fox Business Network, and I'm suddenly watching The Donald's 25-year-old daughter, Ivanka Trump, showing off a new line of diamond jewelry. Bracelets instead of bonds? Well, get used to it. The Fox Business Network ain't your grandfather's business channel. And that's the point.
Sure, the News Corp. (NWS) offering has the look, feel, and gravitas of the other business news channel, the incumbent CNBC, controlled by General Electric (GE). Fox has its own "Money Honey" reporting from the New York Stock Exchange floor in Nicole Petallides, who doesn't have the stature of CNBC's Maria Bartiromo but works the floor with the same gusto. Yet Fox Business, which promotes itself with on-air promos that declare "finally, a second opinion," also has a guy named Cody Willard.
Co-anchor Willard, a former hedge fund trader, is Fox Business' long-haired, all-black-wearing alter ego. Along with longtime Fox News correspondent Rebecca Gomez, Willard patrols the Bull & Bear bar at Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, grinning through FBN's after-market-close show, Happy Hour. Mixing interviews with out-of-nowhere investment pearls, Willard chomps cheese during one segment, flaunting his, shall we say, romantic abilities while crowding a table of friends. Willard also ogled Ivanka Trump in a segment in which she talked about real estate, The Apprentice, and those gaudy baubles.
Be Very Afraid
Does Fox Business have a chance? You bet. And if I were top NBC executive Jeff Zucker I'd be hustling full-time to stay ahead. FBN may have just a third of CNBC's households (for now, FBN is available only on a little more than 30 million households served by the country's satellite or cable TV systems), but that's temporary. Especially since Murdoch is famous for spending and spending big to launch his progeny.
Wanna spice up the opening bell? Try a little Price Is Right takeoff. Do viewers really want to see anchors Tom Sullivan and Cheryl Casone guess the stock prices of Google (GOOG) and Wal-Mart (WMT)? I don't know, but I did.
Sure, not everything works. The pre-market show, Money for Breakfast, looks like a coffee klatch at Grandma's house. Five folks stuffed on a single coach, with each trying to sound profound. It was one kibitzer too many for me. But when the show turns to Eric Bolling, who runs down the hot business blogs, the show comes to life with the kind of sparkle that will no doubt bring in the younger viewers Fox specializes in luring.
What FBN Gets Right
Murdoch's grand vision of bringing sometimes thick business news to the masses is never more evident than when FBN sends one of its reporters through the hallways of a half-built condo in Chicago to showcase the difficulties the builder is having finding money to complete the project. Yup, the guy is in the crosshairs of a national economic disaster.
There's no mistaking this for anything but a Fox offering, with the best and not-so-swell inspirations of Roger Ailes, Murdoch's top news lieutenant and perhaps the smartest guy behind a camera. The channel's graphics are loud and busy—with a sliding data line on the bottom of the screen that looks less like a ticker than some leftover NFL scores from Fox Sports. But whoever invented the Fox Fifty—and I'm betting it was Ailes—hit pay dirt, spotlighting 50 top stocks for closer FBN attention.
Ailes seems to have also imported his Fox News touch, which gives business news added lift in what I'm betting will be a successful attempt to bring nonbusiness-news watchers to his channel. It's pure talk radio, and it hews to the right, like much of what News Corp. offers. America's Nightly Scoreboard anchor David Asman skewers liberal Democrats for the mistake of one second-level congressional aide who encouraged House staffers to get inoculated before going to NASCAR events. Is that business news? Who cares. It was totally engrossing TV.
I'm sure Ailes & Co. are working to smooth out what seemed to be some less-than-wonderful technical moments. Scenes of onlookers and clattering of plates at the Bull & Bear were chaotic to the point of distraction. The picture was a little fuzzy and the sound occasionally muffled. But FBN already has some big-league advertisers—TD Ameritrade (AMTD) and LendingTree among them—and I'm betting others will come calling soon enough for a cable channel that is going to expand the entire business-news category through its clever segments and substantial market coverage. Murdoch clearly wants to bring business to Main Street, NASCAR, and younger folks who like to mix stock chatter with their after-hour cocktails. After one day on the air, I'm betting he's already headed into a bull market.