CNBC (GE) Gets Break: Fox (NWS) Aims At Wrong Audience


News Corp’s Murdoch said yesterday that the new Fox Business network will be aimed at Main Street, not Wall Street. Murdoch is too smart for this to be a long-term strategy, but GE’s CNBC must be breathing a sigh of relief: It won’t yet face direct competition for its core audience.

(“CNBC is a financial channel for Wall Street,” Murdoch told an investor conference in New York… “We’re for Main Street… They dwell too much on failures or scandals.  We want to put a lot on innovations and successes, people who are making money.”)

We hear him on CNBCs scandal-mongering, but here are three questions: First, does Main Street really care enough about business to watch a financial news channel all day?  (We understand that this is the way Fox News ambushed CNN, but we think business news is different.  Car crashes, murders, fires, crime, and wars are inherently exciting to non-practitioners; business isn’t). 

Second, if there are some Main Streeters out there who want to watch business 24/7, do they really want to watch the dumbed-down version?  Third, which audience is more valuable to advertisers: Unemployed folks seeking inspirational diversion from soap operas (who else has the time to watch business news all day?)–or the cream of the discretionary income crop?

CNBC, after all, is already “business-and-markets lite.”  (If you want the super-dry stuff, you watch Bloomberg).  Also, CNBC doesn’t run all that failure-and-scandal programming by accident–they run it because people love to watch it.  You can only consume so much Sergey Brin and Larry Page for before their “innovations and successes” become annoying (a 24/7 reminder that you suck in comparison), and you start hoping for a failure or scandal that will bring some fat-cat bigshot tumbling down. There’s even precedent for Main Street failure: CNN tried aiming a warmer, fuzzier financial channel at Main Street a while back–CNNfn–and it bombed. 

So what’s Murdoch really up to?  He’s probably aiming for CNBC’s fringe viewers to establish a toehold while he perfects the format and waits for the CNBC-Wall Street Journal content-sharing deal to run out (2012).  Also, just as likely, Murdoch is probably intentionally drawing a clearer distinction than there will ultimately be.  He’s no fool, after all.

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