Fox Business Meeting Early Audience Expectations: Magee

Fox Business Network only averaged 6,000 viewers in the business day daypart during its first two months on the air, and 15,000 in primetime.

Those numbers, Nielsen Media Research data estimates obtained by Multichannel News for the service since its debut on Oct. 15 through Dec. 16, were dwarfed by incumbent CNBC. The financial news sector leader averaged 284,000 viewers weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 238,000 weeknights from 8-11 p.m. over the same span, according to Nielsen.

But the differential during FBN’s incipience doesn’t worry Fox News executive vice president Kevin Magee. “This isn’t surprising because it’s so early,” he said. “We’re well within our expectations.”

The estimates for upstart FBN, which is not officially rated by Nielsen, no doubt are linked in part to its huge carriage deficit: it counts some 30 million households, versus 94 million for CNBC.

Magee said the distribution universe is night and day compared to previous rollout periods within the news and business news spaces.

“It’s a lot different situation than when CNN launched 25 to 30 years ago and with CNBC 19 years ago. FBN is a digital-tier network [it only has basic positioning with Time Warner Cable in Manhattan]. We won’t even be on in Detroit and Chicago until next week.”

Although FBN had commitments from 30 million households when it premiered, rollouts were staggered. With the start of the new year, FBN picked up launches on Charter Communications systems in Travers City, Mich., and Lincoln, Neb.

And there will be plenty of action with Comcast this month starting on Jan. 8 in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Denver and Colorado Springs, Colo; in Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose on Jan. 9; Boston and Detroit on Jan. 10; El Paso on Jan. 14; and South Bend, Ind., on Jan. 15.

Preliminary data drawn from weekly ratings reports FBN and CNBC have bought from Nielsen -- there is no specific time frame for when the fledgling service will be rated, but most new cable networks take a year or more before they come on board with the measurement company-- suggest some bright spots. One-third of FBN’s business-day audience is among the target 25-to-54 set, and that group made up 47% of its primetime viewership through Dec. 16.

Moreover for the week of Dec. 10-16, personal finance expert Dave Ramsey’s show grabbed 27,000 viewers in the 8 p.m. hour, while the 2-5 p.m. block hosted by former CNBCer Liz Claman and David Ashman, averaged just under 15,000.

Magee, who likes the “look and feel” of the network, said several shows have momentum. “Dave Ramsey is performing well. Liz and Dave Ashman are connecting. [Fox News senior vice president and managing editor, Neil] Cavuto is doing well [with Cavuto at 6 p.m.] and we’re very happy with and proud of Alexis Glick’s new show that launched two weeks ago [Opening Bell sounded for the first time in the 9 a.m. hour on Dec. 17].”

Noting that FBN, like any new service, is tweaking its programming, Magee said people forget that the cable news sector leader didn’t emerge overnight.

“It took two years for Fox News Channel to get its head above water, and five years to pass CNN,” he said. “It takes a long time to change viewing habits. But we’ll get there.”

CNBC declined to comment.