The Five Spot: Lauren Petterson, President, Fox Business Network

Fox Business Network
Lauren Petterson (Image credit: Fox Business Network)

Fox Business Network is celebrating its 15th year in the competitive and expanding financial business genre with an eye on offering viewers comprehensive coverage of the financial markets through a variety of news and opinion-themed shows.

Leading the network's charge is veteran Fox News executive Lauren Petterson, who took over as president of Fox Business in 2019. Petterson, who also serves as Fox News Channel's head of talent development, has looked to position Fox Business as a network that appeals to both the financial community as well as individual investors looking for financial guidance though original programming featuring such network personalities as Stuart Varney, Charles Payne and Neil Cavuto

The network's "FBN Prime" block of celebrity-driven, primetime original programming seeks to broaden the network's reach by appealing to general audiences with shows from Mike Rowe (How America Works) and Kelsey Grammer (Historical Battles for America: Crucial Conflicts). Fox Business has also teamed with sister digital service Fox Nation to offer such original series as American Dynasty.

Petterson discusses the network's programming strategy as well as the impact of market uncertainty on the financial network business in an interview edited for space and clarity. 

MCN: How would you define Fox Business Network’s brand and programming strategy? 

Lauren Petterson: I think the business consumer has changed so much over the last couple of years. I see these graduates from college now managing their own money and buying their own stock. So it's not just speaking to the institutional investor anymore — which by the way, is certainly important — but it’s talking to the individual investor as well. It's everyone from Wall Street to your street. So when I came over, what I really wanted to do was not talk down to people but to inform, entertain and have a conversation with them. Business news does not have to be boring; let's not use fancy jargon or be condescending and elitist, because money hits everyone. So we still obviously cover the markets, and we have the big names in business news, but we’ve also made a point to focus on the key kitchen table issues. I think that's why we've seen our recent success because we're not doing financial news only, but we’re doing business news.


'Wicked Tuna' on Nat Geo Channel

(Image credit: Nat Geo/PFTV)

Favorite TV show? Wicked Tuna (pictured). ‘I grew up on the North Shore of Long Island and my older sister taught me how to fish when I was a kid. Now my husband and I have taught my 7-year-old how to catch striped bass. Watching the show as a family is kind of a full-circle moment for me.‘ 
What destinations are on your bucket list?  Pyramids in Egypt, Jerusalem and Athens, Greece
Book on your nightstand? I’m So Glad You Were Born by Ainsley Earhardt 
Shows on your watch list? Practical Jokers; Sunday-morning news programs.
Favorite app? Anything that will deliver food to my door. 

MCN: How has the network differentiated itself from other business-themed networks in the marketplace? 

LP: Our competition is really speaking to the institutional investor — if you’re not part of a publicly traded company, you don’t get to come on and tell your story. We do those things as well, but covering the markets during the day is a very small piece of the pie. I want to build a bigger pie, so you have to invite more people to have a seat at the table. One way we’ve done that is launch our Town Hall series once a month where we invite a live studio audience to talk with experts in the field. [The experts] are not talking down to them but trying to help them understand some pretty complicated things. Stu Varney in particular does an amazing job of making things digestible in an engaged way that feels personal. That’s one of the ways we differentiate ourselves during the day, and because of it we’ve added so many blue chip advertisers like Vanguard, PNC Bank and Bristol Myers Squibb, just to name a few. 

MCN: What has been the strategy behind the network’s ‘FBN Prime’ block of programming, which features programming from celebrities like Mike Rowe and Kelsey Grammer?

LP: When I came over, we looked at what we should be doing in primetime. We had some opinion shows, which didn’t make a lot of sense because the Fox News Channel owns that space at night. We thought about doing more live business coverage, but that didn’t make much sense either, because the data shows that the business viewer has had their fill and disappears around dinner time. We know our viewers want value, they want to be inspired, they’re very entrepreneurial and believe in the American dream, so what would that look like? We’ve had Mike Rowe on as a guest over the years, and we thought, ‘Who’s better at explaining how America works?’ So we partnered with him on a show that looks at ordinary people doing extraordinary things to keep the lights on and to keep food on the table. With Kelsey, we’re dipping into the history space. History is so tied in with business news and how our viewers feel and think. It is the same with American Built with Stu Varney. The content is brand-safe and has brought in a boatload of new advertisers. 

MCN: Given all of the market uncertainty that the country is facing, how do you see the business news landscape developing through the rest of the year and into 2023?

LP: I think the audience is going to continue to grow. The viewers are for the most part back to work and back to their morning habits, so we’re up [in ratings] about 85% in the mornings over the last nine months. As people have gone back to work they’re craving more information about their money, so we’re watching the linear channel grow. We’re going to keep investing in the linear channel, but we’re certainly looking at other pieces of our business on the streaming and digital side. YouTube has been a great platform for us — our growth there is up almost 200%.

MCN: Do you foresee more competition coming into the marketplace?

LP: Yes I think so, not only from new financial networks but from the major networks as well. I think the other media companies are just discovering that there’s something called inflation that we’ve been talking about for 11 months, so I think you’re going to see more financial coverage. I’m already seeing more business reporters, economic experts and analysts on the networks now. But we own the space in a very unique way, so bring it on. ▪️

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.