Fans of TV business news anticipating a heavyweight bout between CNBC and the new Fox Business Network should put away their fight cards.
At least for now.
FBN, a Fox News Channel nws spinoff, launches Monday and is available initially on cable and satellite systems serving more than 30 million subscribers. DirecTV customers get an HD version.
But Fox News Executive Vice President Kevin Magee, who's in charge of FBN's day-to-day operations, says it doesn't want to trade blows with CNBC, ge or even Bloomberg TV, the current channels of choice for financial market watchers. "If we take half of CNBC's audience and leave them with half, we'll both starve."
Instead, his new business channel aims to draw viewers "from soap operas, game shows — any place we can."
FBN executives hope to do that with personality-driven programs heavy on personal finance and with stories offering business insights into general interest news. There is some traditional market news, along with an on-screen crawl showing the latest stock prices.
As News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch put it last month: "CNBC is a financial channel for Wall Street. We're for Main Street."
FBN also is creating an Internet destination featuring videos, blogs, news and the kinds of investment tools common to financial sites.
"We're going to be relevant. We're going to be passionate. We're going to be different," says Neil Cavuto, FBN's chief anchor and Fox's managing editor of business news.
The strategy makes sense for a service trying to get a toehold in the market, even at the risk of siphoning some viewers from Fox News.
But it may surprise those who expected Murdoch to make FBN the centerpiece of a global business news empire — a service that also can play on his satellite TV systems in Europe and Asia and mesh with the Dow Jones dj properties he's about to acquire. The $5 billion Dow Jones deal will give him some of the top news outlets for the financial elite, including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, SmartMoney and MarketWatch.com.
"If FBN is all about news-you-can-use, then it's not going to be a global platform and it's not going to tie in to The Journal," says Bernstein Research analyst Michael Nathanson.
Traditional TV business news is attractive for its appeal to affluent viewers. Advertisers pay top dollar to reach them, which is why CNBC is highly profitable even though it has a relatively small audience.
Murdoch also has just the guy to duke it out with CNBC for that privileged market: Fox News CEO Roger Ailes ran CNBC from 1993 to 1996.
FBN spin zone?
Will FBN really start off trying to peacefully coexist with CNBC? Or is the sister network to the home of the "no spin zone" just saying that to dissuade the No. 1 business network from engaging in a potentially ruinous war?
It's hard to say. While most new services crave attention for their programming, FBN treats its plans as top secret.
"I can't give you programming, because then I'd have to kill you," Cavuto jokes.
In part, however, it's because FBN is a work in progress that, its executives say, could change rapidly.