In Depth: Ailes & Co. review FBN…

Last week, according to sources, Roger Ailes and FBN’s senior and executive producers all convened in a room to watch the network’s broadcast. The purpose of this gathering? To examine the programming in detail and see what was working and what might need changing or tweaking.

Given the cancellation of Fox Business Morning, Happy Hour, the cancellation of the short lived Imus in the Evening, the canceled but not yet off the air Your Questions, Your Money, the recent news of new weekday shows for Eric Bolling and possibly Geri Willis, and Andrew Napolitano’s new weekend show (I hear there’s a possibility that as many as three new weekend programs may launch), news of an in depth review of the network’s broadcast further drives home the point that FBN is in a transitional/transformational period.

Some will no doubt immediately leap to the conclusion that this is a clear sign that the network is in trouble as it makes some pretty serious changes to its programming. I’m not convinced that this is automatically a given. First of all, any network worth its salt is going to have reviews of some sort, though the sort of meeting described in the first paragraph sounds atypical. Second, some of the FBN cancellations appear to be cost related, at least in part. Your Questions, Your Money in particular was expensive to produce given that the technical staff were all weekday workers doing voluntary overtime, which costs a lot more. Third, internally, morale is good at the network. Morale is never good at a network that’s in trouble.

A fourth point, which is often ignored or downplayed by critics, is that FBN’s clock is not yet ticking at News Corp. and won’t be for another two years at least. The reason? CNBC’s deal with Dow Jones. It’s become increasingly clear to me that FBN is in something of a holding albeit evolving pattern that will continue until FBN can finally get its hands on Dow Jones. Everything that transpires regarding FBN before that moment is merely an attempt to put the proper framework in place so that when FBN does have full unfettered access to Dow Jones it will be in the best position possible to take advantage of the situation. Regardless of how the critics and outsiders judge FBN now, News Corp. will remain unfazed until FBN can tap in to Dow Jones. Only at that point, when FBN is considered a complete entity by News Corp., will it really start judging the network on a success/failure basis. That’s also when the real fight with CNBC begins. I’m not sure that’s a nuance that CNBC, and by extension NBC Universal, fully comprehends. They may think that after nearly three years of FBN not doing much damage, the fight’s over. It’s not.

There are two FBN clocks really; the one that FBN’s critics and media writers use and the one that News Corp. uses. While some have no doubt started the first clock, ultimately only the second clock matters and it’s not ticking. In fact it’s not even being wound yet.

There are only two thing I think we can take with any certainty to the bank:

1) Roger Ailes will never rest on complacency – This has been demonstrated over and over again on FNC as we’ve seen changes over the years – not all of which met with fan approval as long time favorites departed the network – if Ailes thought the network could do better than it was. And, more often than not, Ailes was shown to be right. It was inevitable that Ailes’ determined perseverance would manifest itself at FBN and it started with the hiring of Imus (not a move I welcomed with open arms to be sure), and the subsequent changes to the dayside lineup and talent earlier this year.

2) The changes at FBN probably aren’t over.

Update: A tipster says this wasn’t the first time a meeting like last week’s has occurred but they definitely aren’t the norm.

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7 Responses to “In Depth: Ailes & Co. review FBN…”

  1. starbroker Says:

    It’s amazing to me that a network not even 3 years old until mid October has been getting so much scrutiny.

    Everyone always wants to say well FNC did this… and they did that. Well of course that was a much easier victory. For starters, there was nothing like FNC on the dial. While (Gallup now says) 45% of this country are conservatives-they had no news outlet at all. All the MSM companies presented news with a left wing bias.

    Then of course, CNBC is Ailes baby. Of course its much harder to go try and reinvent something that you already created. That’s a major mountain to climb.

    We’ve seen very little advertising/promotion for the network. Mainly it consists of mentions on FNC and then an occasional ad in the Journal or NY Post. I think they are waiting to go guns blazing with advertising until they rename the channel.

    I still think when the Comcast/Universal merger is complete NewsCorp will offer to pay X amount to buy out the remaining “exclusivity” left. I could also see Comcast taking it. Hey to them its free money and they don’t consider FBN to be a threat.

    I also think alot of people forget how well FBN is really doing. As Pew spelled out:

    Fox Business Network

    Two years after its launch, Fox Business Network (FBN) was projected to grow revenue faster than its rivals despite its failure to substantially increase viewership.

    FBN’s own financial indicators were strong in 2009
    Total revenues were projected to grow 33% to $96 million in 2009, up from $72 million in 2008 (ad revenues were projected to increase 44%).

    Also, FBN’s audience avg household income is $198,353 compared to CNBC $202,928

    Some of the haters are wanting to write off a network with numbers like those that ANY new network would kill for. After only 3 1/2 years, the network could go to break even or even start to turn a small profit on a yearly basis and thats all before the network is “fully integrated”.

    I do think they are making a mistake in giving Geri her own show. Jenna Lee and Sandra Smith both deserve a show over Geri. If they would get a clue over there they would recognize that Jenna could be every bit as big as Erin Burnett. Even bigger if they really gave her a chance and full backing.

    They should at least give her a weekend show on FNC. She needs that and they need to let her fill in for Cavuto when hes gone on FNC.

    Lets also give Imus some more time. The show already averages around 108K. As we get closer to the next election, hopefully it can really take back off again.

    It would be nice if “Wall Street 2″ were a huge hit and that FBN and Jenna Lee get some nice screen time. Maybe then they could pick up some new viewers. Let Jenna hit the talk show circuit. I mean why not, they let people that were in Iron Man 2 for 45 seconds hit the talk shows.

  2. sillyusernames Says:

    Hi,

    In my opinion, I think you’re missing something important in your analysis. You state that, essentially, FBN will have a “competitive advantage” after they gain exclusive access to Dow Jones.

    I disagree.

    The network is still positioning itself to be for “main street” as opposed to Wall Street (for example, they don’t even mention the words EPS as per an article from Stuart Varney). So I think the question that needs to be answered is: What benefit will Dow Jones exclusivity give FBN?

    Unless the channel is planning to change direction in a few years to become more in-line with CNBC’s content (heavy on Wall Street, with a hint of Main Street here and there)….I don’t see what the benefit of DJ will be for FBN. Main Street’ers don’t care about the latest $4 billion merger between small companies, or earnings announcements, minute-by-minute market coverage, analyst upgrades/downgrades etc. etc.. There’s very little DJ content which would be of interest to a “Main Street” audience.

    If FBN decides to go literally head-to-head with CNBC – well, that’s going to be a tough fight, because CNBC programming is quite “Fox’ified” as it is
    (lots of eye candy, good graphics, fast paced, lots of discussion/debate, right-leaning focus etc.)

  3. It’s amazing to me that a network not even 3 years old until mid October has been getting so much scrutiny.

    I don’t see why. Back when MSNBC and FNC launched the media blogosphere wasn’t anywhere near like what it is now. If FNC and MSNBC launched today and had the same progress they had in the late 90s you can bet they’d get put through the wringer as well. It’s not about FBN. It’s about the way media scrutinizes itself in the 21st century.

    I think they are waiting to go guns blazing with advertising until they rename the channel.

    I just don’t see this happening. While in theory it sure makes sense, it would be counter to News Corp. history to rename a FOX property “The Wall Street Journal Channel”. Basically the bulk of the News Corp. channels in the US have the word “FOX” at the front of them. It’s sort of a brand tradition. But if you do that in this case you come out with the semi-hamhanded “Fox Wall Street Journal Channel” Too big a mouthful.

    At this stage of its life the channel can ill afford to not have the word Fox in it. The rub is, by the time it can afford to not have the word Fox in it, it’ll be too late to do anything.

    Case in point: MSNBC. NBCU now controls the channel and would probably love to change it to NBC News Channel since Microsoft no longer has a say in it. But it never will because MSNBC.com is too big an URL to change and, truth be told, Microsoft is still a partner there and wouldn’t want it changed. If News Corp did want to rename Fox Business it faces a similar dilemma on the web, though foxbusiness.com is nowhere near the destination MSNBC.com is. Nor will it be.

    The network is still positioning itself to be for “main street” as opposed to Wall Street (for example, they don’t even mention the words EPS as per an article from Stuart Varney). So I think the question that needs to be answered is: What benefit will Dow Jones exclusivity give FBN?

    The network doth speaketh with forked tongue. It’s trying to do both. It’s saying that it’s about “Main Street” while it continues to cater to Wall Street. Does “main street” really care about what Warren Buffett does? Not so much. Yet FBN panders to Lord Warren just as much as CNBC does. I think it’s trying to keep its options open.

    Starbroker says a lot of things I don’t agree with but getting control of Dow Jones is huge. News Corp. has a battery of Dow Jones “wrenches” already at its disposal that it could throw into CNBC’s machinery to gum up the works but hasn’t yet. For starters, renaming the Dow Jones Industrials to The Fox Business Industrials. That would put CNBC in a bind for sure. Having full access to the Wall Street Jounal’s reporters, when that CNBC deal expires is another big thing. It’s one reason why we’ve seen CBNC inch closer to using Financial Times reporters.

    I am expecting some fundamental changes when FBN does get full access to Dow Jones.

  4. starbroker Says:

    Getting back to the launch of FNC and people comparing that with FBN. Keep in mind, the LAUNCH of FNC was around $400 MILLION (and that was back in the day $s).

    They launched FBN on a shoestring. $100M is nothing to launch a new network. Just look at the Conan discussions. Murdoch didn’t want to spend $70 M launching the new show. That’s just one show. And FBN, a whole network, is launched for $30M more.

    As to the rebranding, I don’t think it will be a problem. I think it would be WSJ Network or WSJ Channel.

    OH GOODNESS, as I am typing this I am having to sit through Gerri Willis blather on about consumer confidence. Oh my. Why did they hire her??! But I digress….

    I don’t think they will have a problem with the web name because they could just direct you to wsj.com

    Granted, I agree about almost all other News Corp channels using “Fox”, but this is a different situation. And the WSJ name carries far greater cache. Besides, changing the name …helps take away some of the hatred of “Fox News”. Granted, its just a shell game, but it is amazing what some idiots will fall for.

    ICN brings up the point of renaming the index to gum up things. That wouldn’t work at all now. Remember Murdoch sold a 90% stack and as part of that: Under a joint venture agreement, CME will get a long-term licence to use the Dow Jones name.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/feb/11/news-corporation-sells-dow-jones-cme

    They can’t do anything about that index name now.

    One other thing….if you go to dowjones.com or wsj.com what do you see MISSING from that site? I don’t even see a link at the bottom.

    One other thing–the mainstreet vs wall street. Its not like average investors don’t read the Journal. Plus they can cover more things without people griping about the “channel name”.

    One last thing–theres the 2 1/2 years left in the deal with CNBC. I still can envision NC being about to buy out the remaining 2 years when that deal is “finalized”. I can see them taking the cash and not being worried about FBN/WSJ.

  5. Getting back to the launch of FNC and people comparing that with FBN. Keep in mind, the LAUNCH of FNC was around $400 MILLION (and that was back in the day $s).

    They launched FBN on a shoestring. $100M is nothing to launch a new network.

    You’re forgetting one tiny yet very significant difference here Star. FNC launched with NOTHING to build from. No infrastructure. No sattelites uplinks. No office space. No studio space. No server network.

    For FBN’s launch, FNC only had to carve out some space in its existing eco-system to get FBN off the ground. Sure it had to create new studios and bring in new equipment but part of this cost is amortized because FBN was the test bed to get FNC to HD.

    It’s far cheaper to launch a sister network in the same building using some of the same staff than it is to create everything from scratch as FNC did.

    Just look at the Conan discussions. Murdoch didn’t want to spend $70 M launching the new show.

    Ahem…there was also that tiny matter of the affilliates showing severe resistance to giving up their lucrative late night space. If Fox already controlled that time period it would have made it more palatable for Murdoch to spend the money.

    They can’t do anything about that index name now.

    I was unaware of this development. You’re right, they can’t do it now.

  6. Plus they can cover more things without people griping about the “channel name”

    Irrelevant if the network continues that stroll down the politics path, aping it’s more well known sister, as it’s done the past half year or so. People will still gripe about the political “slant” regardless of the name.

  7. [...] month ago today, InsideCableNews.com stated that FNC honcho Roger Ailes and his top FBN suits had “convened in a room [about a week [...]

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