Monday, February 12, 2007

Is It On?

I've been curious for a while about Fox News's plans for a new business news network on cable. It would, according to its executives, be a little more business-firendly than CNBC, the only incumbent, and would draw heavily on the talents of Neil
Cavuto, a top draw in its time-slot.

The venture looks suicidal because CNBC has proven adept at keeping costs down and sweeping up the limited dollars available from financial advertisers. CNBC made $275 million in earnings in 2006, a respectable number, but hardly up there with the profits available in the more mainstream branches of cable.

There's also the fact that business-to-business advertisers look for evidence of management watching programming. Softball programming might bring in retail investor eyeballs, but why would the more discerning viewer sit through Fox News for business. We know they'll sit through Bill O'Reilly for an hour a day, but that's strictly for relaxation.

So let's assume that the tech and business solutions advertisers, CDW and FedEx and so forth, are less than enthusiastic. I'm not 100% confident in this assertion, since it's possible that Fox might put together something that draws heavily on Inc - heartwarming tales of small businesses run right - but I haven't had any indications of such a direction.

This leaves CNBC in the role off something like Forbes, a slightly strange position for it, because Fox' politics are much closer to Forbes. But Forbes has, in my view, a deserved reputation for biting at the ankles of bad businesses. While CNBC has a clear financial and editorial interest in a bullish stock market, it has a decent line in covering companies aggressively.

Where I can see Fox Business making headway in the market is by targeting aggressively the stock trading outfits, crossed with a decent smattering of lifestyle advertisers. Watching how shameless Fox has been in hewing the Republican agenda, you should not imagine that it will have much compunction in chasing over-the-counter stock touters and any other horsemen of the financial apocalypse. Combining production with the existing Fox assets, they may be able to do it pretty cheaply.

And you know what would kick this off quite nicely? A raid on CNBC for one Jim Cramer. Yeah, him. The guy that jumps up and down and throws things and has the adoring audience of individual investors.

I have no idea how deeply tied into the NBC/GE empire Mr. Cramer is, but there's no doubt he'd be the face of the network. The reason he might do it is that for some weird reason this pretty, sharp and personable anchor called Maria Bartiromo is being hailed as the face of CNBC, while Cramer sits around, all chopped liver and boo-yah. It would probably be a bit more of a commitment than the prolific Mr. Cramer would like, but it's clear that Fox would be well-placed to take care of Cramer's other ventures, such as The Street, although a full-fledged takeover of a $275 million corporation might be a bit of a chunk.

Still, it's always possible that this looming Bartiromo nudge-nudge scandal gets all, um, explicit, and CNBC does, in fact, weaken.

Which reminds me. If there's one thing I can't bear, it's financial advertising, which is odd, because it mays my salary. In any case, as soon as I get the time, I'm going to start scanning and screencapping, and otherwise capturing this drivel for posterity. Seriously, the only good ad I ever saw was for utterly unrelated reasons, and was when Standard Bank London used the same artwork as the New York City Cops-expunged version of Is This It in the mid-90s. I may even track it down one day.


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