by Peter Barry Chowka · November 9, 2017
After shocking the television news business by taking Fox News Channel from nowhere to cable news dominance, the same management team created by the late Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch took on another challenge. The lucrative niche of business news, where CNBC showed the same sort of first mover advantage that had favored CNN, was the target.
It seemed like an auspicious beginning in October 2007 when the 21st Century Fox media empire launched a new channel devoted to business news. Meanwhile, the Fox News Channel (FNC) was eleven years old at that point and had achieved #1 ratings status among the three U.S. cable news outlets, trouncing cable news pioneer CNN and MSNBC. The Fox Business Network (FBN) was intended to challenge CNBC, the leading cable-satellite-Internet business news channel, which had started way back in 1989 and seemed ripe for a challenge..
The first years of FBN were slow going, however. Two and one-half months after Fox Business launched, the New York Times (not friendly to anything labeled “Fox”) reported “Few viewers for infancy of Fox Business.” In early 2009, the Washington Post noted “[Fox] Financial News Outlet Continues to Lag Far Behind CNBC.” For a time, FBN’s viewers were “so low as to fall below [TV ratings reporting firm] Nielsen’s minimum standards for reporting,” according to Gary Holmes, a Nielsen spokesman.
Ten years later now, everything is different and the Fox Business Network has ample reasons to celebrate. An FBN news release on November 7, 2017 reported the latest: “FOX Business Network continued its winning streak over CNBC, topping the network in both Business Day and Total Day viewers during the heavily dominated business news week of October 30th – November 3rd, according to Nielsen Media Research.”
CNBC still leads FBN during much of the day in the age 25-54 demographic metric, but while the news for FBN has been getting better, for the 29 year-old CNBC it has been bad and it’s getting worse. As FBN’s audience share has been increasing, CNBC, according to ValueWalk (August 1, 2017) “Has Lowest Rated Business Day in 22 Years.”
The turnaround for FBN was first noted by the mainstream media over a year ago when FBN began to top CNBC in the ratings. Last February 28, AP television writer David Bauder reported:
Fox Business Network topped CNBC in viewership during the business day for the fifth consecutive month [emphasis added], an illustration of dramatic growth at an upstart network that began operation a decade ago.
FBN averaged 218,000 viewers during the hours between 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. in February, an increase of 59 percent over February 2016. CNBC, meanwhile, dropped from 212,000 to 182,000 in the same measurement, Nielsen Media Research said.
More recently on October 13, 2017, a lengthy article in USA Today reported that FBN:
…which celebrates its 10th anniversary next week, touts robust Nielsen data showing it has won the business daytime slot — from the time the stock market opens at 9:30 until 5 p.m. ET (an hour after its close) — beating CNBC over the past four quarters. . .
There’s no denying Fox Business Network is on the rise, says Chris Roush, professor of business journalism at the University of North Carolina.
A third cable-satellite financial channel, Bloomberg Television, which started in 1994, remains a poor third in the ratings. A November 19, 2013 BuzzFeed article about the channel noted that “Bloomberg’s audience is too small to be rated by Nielsen.” Bloomberg Television is mainly known for producing Charlie Rose’s interview program which also airs nightly on PBS.
A 2,300-word article in Business Insider on October 17, 2017 recounts in major detail the history of FBN and its eventual success against CNBC. The article’s title accurately summarizes its content: “How Fox Business is beating CNBC by embracing politics.” But other analysts point out that CNBC has also modified its original focus on financial news in order to make room for the white hot polarized political coverage of the present time that represents a ratings magnet. As an August 5, 2017 un-bylined article in ValueWalk notes, “CNBC is allegedly ‘business’ news. But, is it really? I’d argue it has tragically morphed into a 50/50 mix of ‘business and politics.’”
So, both competing channels have adopted a mix of business and politics. Produced in the same house as the its sister outlet the Fox News Channel – the dominant cable news source for the past 15 years – the Fox Business Network appears to have the advantage in this area.
The production values of FBN are similar to FNC’s, giving each one a similar compelling appearance and an advantage to FBN. This is television, after all, and the “look” is important to the art and science of capturing and keeping viewers. Fox News’s visual presentation has been state of the art and influential, copied by both CNN and MSNBC, since shortly after it went live. A lot of the innovative visual design was attributed to Rich O’Brien, FNC Sr. V.P. and Creative Director for 21 years, the “creative genius” who died in a car accident in July 2017.
Content is clearly also important. While CNBC (unlike its sister channel MSNBC or NBC News in general) lacks a consistent ideological or editorial spin, FBN is more uniformly business-, capitalist-, and conservative-friendly, and is much more balanced in its political reporting. Its sister channel FNC’s motto has long been “fair and balanced,” and the two channels share that ethic as well as on-air talent, including veteran reporters and hosts Neil Cavuto, Stewart Varney, Maria Bartiromo, and a number of others.
The #1 program on FBN is hosted by Lou Dobbs. According to FBN’s November 7th news release, “For the 63rd consecutive week, Lou Dobbs Tonight (7-8p/ET) was the number one rated program in business television with 381,000 total viewers, as well as the week’s number one rated business program in the 25-54 demo with 42,000 total viewers.” Dobbs is a consummate professional broadcaster who was a mainstay at CNN from 1980 when the channel started until 2006, when he wore out his welcome due to his increasingly independent, populist reporting that was incompatible with CNN’s evolving left turn. Dobbs also appears from time to time on Fox News as a guest analyst.
Another FBN program host who is popular with viewers, and who occasionally crosses over to appear on FNC, is Charles Payne, whose compelling personal narrative is part of his success as a TV host and commentator.
Because of its more detailed focus on business news and its appeal to a sophisticated, financially literate audience, the Fox Business Network is sometimes referred to as “the thinking man’s Fox News.” Over the course of months of writing about the cable news wars and the Fox News Channel at American Thinker, a number of readers who posted comments have said they now prefer FBN over FNC, including because of the increasing presence on the latter of left of center, talking point-reading hosts and analysts like Juan Williams, Marie Harf, Richard Fowler, and Jessica Tarlov. The perception matched by the reality is that FBN is less encumbered with these kinds of predictable, progressive Democrat talking heads.
FBN is also the home of some entertaining non-political and non-business shows like Strange Inheritance® with Jamie Colby and The Property Man with Bob Massi. In the past, FBN has presented both repeat and new episodes of War Stories with Oliver North, an extremely worthwhile and entertaining documentary-style program about significant events in the military history of the United States.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture. Follow Peter on Twitter @pchowka