Feb 8, 2007

Murdoch renews Fox Business Channel buzz

The timing of the launch of the Fox Business Channel has been a favorite parlor game of the media industry for years, ever since News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch told analysts that he wanted to challenge CNBC for the small but lucrative business-news audience.

Just when has been the subject of much debate, with a national newspaper claiming more than a year ago that a launch was imminent (it wasn't), and with Fox News executives not really showing their hand even if Murdoch and News Corp. president and chief operating officer Peter Chernin are willing to discuss it on Wall Street.

The latest bout of mixed signals came Wednesday, with Murdoch and Chernin hinting that an announcement was close if not exactly imminent. Murdoch said during News Corp.'s latest quarterly earnings conference call that there will be an announcement "in the next week." But Chernin seemed to back off a bit, saying that the announcement should happen "soon" but declining to be more specific.

Addressing the launch date, Murdoch tied it to the early fall, with Chernin saying only that it will happen "in the latter part of the calendar year."

But there's no question that a Fox Business Channel is coming. Fox News Channel has the top five business shows on TV, with ratings that far outweigh CNBC and an eye toward the big-bucks ad revenue that the NBC Universal-owned channel draws. It has secured enough distribution -- upward of 30 million households -- to make the channel viable. And it has hired executives including former "Today" and CNBC staffer Alexis Glick to help develop the channel.

Murdoch said the channel is working on developing the physical studios, which would be shared with Fox News in the News Corp. headquarters in Manhattan.

"Plus, we have to recruit some money honeys," chuckled Murdoch, referring to the now-trademarked nickname of CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo.

CNBC even discussed the matter Wednesday on the network's "Squawk on the Street."

"Maybe we're the only people who care about this, but (Murdoch) did answer a question about the coming business network that Fox has been talking about launching for years now," reporter David Faber said on the show. He also repeated Murdoch's "money honeys" line.

"I think that counts us out," joked co-anchor Mark Haines, who noted that it seemed as if Murdoch had his foot on the pedal on the business channel but that others at News Corp. had their foot on the brake.

"This is a totally inappropriate conversation," CNBC co-host Erin Burnett said.

"I cleared it with management," Faber responded.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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