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Fox Business Expects Big Day With GOP Debate

Fox Business Network is looking forward to its biggest day since the channel was launched eight years ago.

The network will host its first presidential debate, with the lower-ranked Republicans taking the podium at 7 pm ET, followed by the front-runners at 9 p.m. The early debate will be moderated by FBN anchors Trish Regan and Sandra Smith, plus Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal. The second debate will be moderated by Maria Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto of FBN, plus WSJ editor-in-chief Gerard Baker.

The debates have been drawing huge audiences and Fox Business hopes to take advantage by impressing viewers who haven’t yet seen the channel, making new inroads with distributors and raking in some extra advertising dollars.

“It’s probably the biggest day except for the launch in the network’s history,” says Bill Shine, senior executive VP at Fox News who oversees programming at FBN.

The Republican debate held on Fox News in August drew a record 24 million viewers. Another on CNN in September had 23 million viewers. Two weeks ago, a debate on CNBC drew 14 million viewers.

Shine declined to estimate how many viewers would tune in on Fox Business, but expected it to be a record audience. So far, no show on Fox Business has attracted an average of more than a million viewers.

To maximize that number, 21st Century Fox, which is available in about 82 million homes, has made agreements to be carried to all the subscribers of several top cable and satellite operators, including DirecTV, Mediacom and Suddenlink. Those viewers will be able to see the network for a full week, including the debate.

Shine says Fox Business hopes people will sample the network’s programming. “We want them to come in for the pregame show, the post-game show, both debates, obviously,” he said. And then hopefully they’ll like the product and then they can come back days later and see what great talent we have and what great programming we have.”

During the debate, Fox Business will be promoting the launch of season 2 of its series Strange Inheritance, Shine says. Hosted by Jamie Colby, the new season premieres 4 of its 26 new episodes on Wednesday.

With an influx of viewers, Fox Business is also attracting a swarm of new advertisers for the debate. Shine says he’s been told the unusually large audience expected for the debate attracted ad dollars from categories including movies and automobiles as well as luxury goods. There are also spots for a couple of the campaigns and some issue advertising.

The debate on Fox Business Network is expected to focus on economic and business issues. And the network is making a change in the format of the debate from the ones that have already aired on other networks. Instead of giving a candidate 60 seconds to answer and questions and his rivals 30 seconds to respond to that answer, candidates will get 90 seconds to answer, and the responses can go 60 seconds.

“We did it because it’s an economic debate and these candidates may need some extra time to explain their plans—their tax plans, their economic plans, their job plans—because some of these can be complicated,” Shine says. He added that “we looked at other debates and there was a lot of the anchors trying to butt in, and it kind of wrecked the flow of the debates.”

Shine says the changes were made by the network and relayed to the campaigns and is not the result of complaints from the candidates.

CNBC’s debate stirred so much criticism that the Republican National Committee suspended its relationship with NBC News, saying moderators acted “in bad faith,” peppering the candidates with “gotcha questions.”

While Fox Business Network plans to stick to economic issues, if big news breaks, its moderators will ask about it. “I think the bar’s a little higher for an economic debate,” Shine says. “We’re looking at what’s happening in the Middle East with Syria or with Russia. If definitive information comes out about what happened to that plane next Tuesday, we might have to bring that up.”

Tuesday’s debates will air live from the Milwaukee Theatre in Milwaukee.

Fox Business Network had its highest rated quarter ever in the third quarter, with some of its shows beating their competition on the more-established CNBC, according to Nielsen. CNBC no longer uses Nielsen to measure its daytime business audience because it doesn’t capture viewing by business people in offices.

Shine hopes that after viewers watch the debate and other programming on Fox Business Network, they will see that “we are a very good, high quality business channel and that we are a Fox News property, that we are fair, balanced, accurate and like to have some fun.”