Left Coast Bias: Fox Business Network Needs to Answer the Bell

Okay, it's pop quiz time. Let's say there are two networks. One of them, which has bombastic personalities firing out declarations that draw heaps of headlines and buzz, has seen its credibility come under fire recently. The other is decidedly below the radar, quietly going about its days with a relatively toned-down approach.

One of them is run by Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, who have been known to make a wave or two. The other is under the umbrella of usually buttoned-downed General Electric. Not too tough to guess which is which.

Except if the networks are CNBC and Fox Business Network. Then it's the opposite of what you may have surmised. In atypical fashion, Fox is happy to have it that way. For now, anyway.

The mutilated economy continues to dominate the news; public consciousness is increasingly turning against Wall Street. And, CNBC has of late caught some backlash toward a few of its high-profile faces.

So if ever there were a chance for Fox Business Network to grab a foothold, it is now. But it remains to be seen if the network can even get noticed enough to seize the opportunity.

Since launching in October 2007, Fox Business wanted to cater to Main Street as CNBC does to Wall Street. And while it is in 45 million homes, FBN generally still operates largely off the scope. Given some of CNBC's issues of late, that is not always a bad place to be.

I know a little about all publicity not being good publicity. Once when I was a flack, a blimp bearing the name of our company crashed into a restaurant. Even I could figure out that wasn't great for business. Nor for the restaurant, by the way.

As for all the hoopla over Jim Cramer, remember CNBC is a for-profit network trying to drive one thing: ratings. In my mind, he should be viewed as an entertainer and nothing more. If you sit there and watch any TV pundit and trade stocks based solely on what they say, you deserve to be as broke as a journalist anyway.

But whatever your view, the Cramer-Jon Stewart rumble was not a banner day for CNBC, as the public vitriol toward Wall Street seemed to rub off on the network.

“We are happy to be under the radar screen through all of this,” said one FBN insider.

But if FBN wants to grow in penetration, profit or buzz, now is its best chance. It had best figure something out quick.

Fox News Channel was truly born 18 months into its existence with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. To get noticed, FBN is going to need some seminal moment—whether it's a huge breaking news story, or more likely, a piece of talent getting hot.

Basically, it needs someone to rage against the machine and champion the populist anger at the Wall Street institutions. Network insiders say they are well aware of the opportunity and have a plan.

“We are smart enough not to let this kind of an opportunity pass—it's not in our DNA,” said the FBN source.

If FBN doesn't capitalize soon, it will continue to quietly hum along. Murdoch still has the Wall Street Journal up his sleeve and can integrate it with FBN after its CNBC deal is up in 2012.

But if Fox wants to cash in on this economic downturn, it had better hurry up. This recession will definitely be over within a few…years.

E-mail comments toben.grossman@reedbusiness.com