Ailes: Fox Biz Network Must Limit Infomercials

Feb 12, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes says he’s paying for cable operators’ mistakes with CNBC.

Burned by the number of infomercial hours programmed by CNBC, the companies that have agreed to carry the Fox Business Channel starting in fourth quarter of this year have imposed limits on the number of non-business-news hours on the network, Mr. Ailes told TelevisionWeek in an interview.

“We’re not allowed to do what CNBC does. They go 24/7 on weekends with infomercials. They can go all overnight on infomercials,” Mr. Ailes said. “[The cable operators] figured out they had given away the store with CNBC and they limited us more.

“We can have X number of hours, six or eight or something, for a couple of years. So we clearly are going to have to come up with a schedule that allows us not to live on the addiction to infomercials and nose tweezers and `Body by Jake,’ or Cheese Whiz slicers and that s–,” Mr. Ailes said last week. “We’re going to have to invent something.”

In the beginning, he said, he expects to do a 12-hour live day, then probably taped programming in the evening and more taped programming on the weekends.

Mr. Ailes spoke last week after the long-awaited announcement that News Corp. had cable operators’ commitments representing 30 million subscribers. That had been the magic target number News Corp. set for greenlighting the channel News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch has long desired.

In spite of the long lead, Mr. Ailes and Neil Cavuto, Fox News senior VP and managing editor of business news, have few specifics to share.

Mr. Ailes said his team is working on “a hard headcount” that probably will include more than 300 hires involved in the gathering and producing of business news. Synergy will help hold down some other costs, since Fox Business Channel will be housed in the headquarters building of News Corp. and Fox News.

The team also includes Fox News Executive VP Kevin Magee, who will be responsible for day-to-day operations of the new channel, while Mr. Cavuto will oversee content and business news coverage; and former CNBC personality Alexis Glick, who will serve as a director of business news, reporting to Mr. Cavuto, while also serving in an on-air capacity.

The Ailes-Cavuto-Glick triumvirate has a good knowledge of CNBC practice and personalities, which Fox Business Channel clearly considers its prime competition for viewers who are not restricted to Wall Street offices.

Mr. Ailes, who considers public relations an art of war, can and did make sharp, pithy observations about the CNBC on-air veterans. For example, he offered: “Joe Kernen is a real stud for them.” Then he said, “Hey, let me just say they’re all good friends. I know all of them. Most of them were there when I was there when I was a boy.

“I think they’ve got a niche carved out,” Mr. Ailes said.

CNBC made more than $275 million in pre-tax profit in 2006, a record for the business news channel and is in more than 80 million homes.

Bloomberg Television’s data-heavy, multiscreen, 24-hour format is available in more than 86 million homes. Both competitors have international operations.

However, Mr. Cavuto does not want to be hemmed in.

“There’s a tendency, not across the board, but among some, to look at business news as the stuff of old white men. That has been the perceived audience,” he said, adding that the success that business news on Fox News Channel has had “reaching out to minorities, getting more women, getting younger people watching, getting big numbers, period, is in our approach.”

He aims to challenge people to look outside the box, to see the greater world of business beyond just tick-for-tick movement in the market, Mr. Cavuto said.

“I would imagine there is room there,” BIA Financial Network VP Mark Fratrick said. “They have financial backing, commitment, resources they can use. I would be relatively optimistic of their success.”

“Bring it on,” a spokesperson for CNBC said. “We welcome the competition if it ever shows up.”

A Fox spokesperson replied, “We welcome their arrogance.”