News Corp. to Launch Rival to CNBC

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. announced yesterday that the company's long-rumored cable-TV business news channel will launch Oct. 15.

Now all he needs is a newsroom full of Wall Street Journal reporters to help fill the airtime.

Neil Cavuto, host of Fox News Channel's "Your World With Neil Cavuto," made the launch announcement, as Murdoch's News Corp. is completing its due diligence on Dow Jones, the Journal's parent company. Murdoch made an unsolicited $5 billion bid for Dow Jones in the spring and would like to use the Journal's 750 reporters and editors to supply the new Fox Business Network (FBN) with business news, combining with the reporters and anchors FBN plans to hire.

News Corp. expects to conclude review of Dow Jones by next week, said a source close to the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks between the two sides are ongoing.

As Murdoch pushes his deal forward, supermarket billionaire Ronald Burkle and MySpace co-founder Brad Greenspan met with the Dow Jones board Wednesday and are considering a rival bid, say other sources close to the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity. Greenspan has been upset with how Murdoch has run MySpace since buying it in summer 2005.

At the annual media mogul conference yesterday in Sun Valley, Idaho, Murdoch told the Associated Press that Bancroft family members, who control Dow Jones, "keep changing their minds."

FBN will be a direct competitor with NBC Universal's CNBC all-business channel but may look and feel different, with more emphasis on entertainment than nuts-and-bolts market coverage.

Fox News has spent the past several months designing the channel under the eye of senior vice president Brian Jones, a Fox News and GOP veteran. Jones helped launch the Fox News Channel in 1996 and later worked for the Republican National Committee and former President George H. W. Bush. Jones reports to Kevin McGee, Fox News executive vice president, who will manage the day-to-day operations of the new channel.

News Corp. has contracts with enough cable systems -- including Comcast and Time Warner Cable -- to guarantee that FBN will reach 30 million U.S. viewers when it debuts. CNBC, launched in 1989, reaches 90 million viewers. Bloomberg Television reaches 49 million viewers.

CNBC's format has been described as "ESPN for business," meaning the channel focuses on breaking news of market movements (analogous to updates of game scores), roundtables of stock-pickers (like prognosticating sports talkers), features on business titans and a sometimes-boosterish relationship with the sector it covers. CNBC has not been able to successfully program the primetime or weekend hours, trying talk shows hosted by Dennis Miller and John McEnroe. Jim Cramer's "Mad Money" delivered an evening ratings pop after it debuted in 2005, but the show's popularity has declined in recent months.

Kevin Goldman, CNBC vice president of media relations, said, "CNBC remains focused on being first in business worldwide, providing our viewers with business coverage that's fast, accurate, actionable and unbiased."

Though profitable, CNBC averages about 217,000 viewers each weekday, according to Nielsen Media Research, an increase over last year's numbers. The channel's ratings tend to follow the fortunes of the market -- they go up when the market rises and go down when it drops.

Complicating any possible synergies between the new FBN and the Journal, should Murdoch acquire it, is a content-sharing deal in place between the Journal and CNBC, which runs until 2012. Presumably, any deal between Murdoch and Dow Jones would include a buyout payment to CNBC to terminate that partnership.

Staff writer John Maynard contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company