It’s All Business Leading a Net on a Roll

When Brian Jones was officially named as Fox Business Network’s first-ever president in May, he inherited a channel on a major ratings roll. The financial news outlet posted a record second quarter in total viewers and increased its audience year-to-year in the quarter by 12%. More importantly, Fox Business has beaten its chief rival, CNBC, in total viewers across the business day (9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) for a network-record three consecutive quarters, dating back to third-quarter 2016.

Jones, who was senior vice president of operations when Fox Business launched in 2007 and most recently served as the network’s executive VP, spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the network’s ratings fortunes, as well as the overall cable news business.

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MCN:You are taking over a network that’s on quite a ratings climb. How would you define the Fox Business brand?
Brian Jones: It’s an exciting time. We have a fantastic staff and to see them finally get the recognition that they deserve after 10 hard years of slogging through this is great. We have some fantastic young journalists, and some of the most experienced business journalists that have ever been put together [on a team]. We talk to people, not at people, and we try to put these very important economic concepts into relatable, approachable terms that people understand. We’re talking about health care, tax reform and jobs. You know, these are things that impact every American regardless of economic strata in this country. So we try to give them information that they can use to either keep more of the money that they have or make more money for their families.

MCN:What is it about this current environment that has allowed Fox Business to build its year-to-year ratings growth?
BJ: I think people found the network. We launched it [in 2007] right at the start of the financial crisis. Back during the internet boom, you couldn’t talk to anybody that wasn’t involved in the stock market, but that all went away. … At the same time, the whole media landscape was either changing or fragmenting. So then what happens is that people need actionable information to protect themselves and protect their families. Then, because of those two [Republican primary] debates [telecast by FBN], viewers found in us a network that they liked, and they saw that we have the deepest bench in economic business that’s ever been put together — Maria Bartiromo, Stuart Varney, Neil Cavuto and Lou Dobbs. The lineup is replete with experience in context and analysis so that people can make actionable decisions.

MCN:How do you view today’s cable news landscape?
BJ: I think it’s just an important time for news. I think newspapers — and especially the digital side of newspapers — are growing because people need information. This is a very volatile time, and important issues like health care, taxes, jobs and technology are affecting and will affect you and your kids and your family’s future, and you want the information to put that in context so that you can make the right decision.

MCN:Having said that, what challenges does Fox Business faces as it continues growing?
BJ: I think we’ll be able to solidify our business day because that’s where we do the best journalism and the best coverage of these important issues. Our next challenge, and it’s always been a challenge, is reaching younger viewers. I’ve got kids in their 20s, and they don’t watch business news. They don’t yet understand the importance of this. So it’s getting this information in the younger people’s hands so that they understand when they start getting married and buy houses and buy cars and start planning for their futures that there’s a home for them to go to get information to make those decisions.

MCN:So exactly how do you reach a millennial viewer that’s not necessarily depending on linear cable news networks for information?
BJ: From a business perspective, we’re making sure that our product is available on any platform. I want the person walking down the street with a smartphone or in a home with a tablet or on the [over-the-top] platforms that are emerging to be able to access our content. We are platform-neutral, and as the industry changes we have to make sure that people are aware it’s out there.

We want to make sure that the information on this network is something that helps the entire family. So we choose topics and then put that information in context so that a younger person who is trying to just get going in their first job or their first serious relationship knows what banking means and what the new laws mean to them and how it’s going to affect their first paycheck.

MCN:Recently the network suspended on-air host Charles Payne amid sexual harassment allegations. Where does the network stand with regard to Mr. Payne?
BJ: I can’t talk to employee situations. It is still under investigation and we’ll wait for the outcome of that investigation.

MCN:Have the allegations and the investigation tainted the Fox Business brand at all?
BJ: No, I mean we are focusing on the mission that I just outlined.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.