Fox Business Network is in talks to hire Don Imus, and some, including Henry Blodget, see that as a sign that the fledgling cable outlet is on the ropes after less than two years of existence. On the other hand, however, it may well be a programming masterstroke.
FBN is reportedly looking to replace a three-hour block of morning programming with a TV simulcast of the Imus in the Morning radio show. MSNBC carried the program until 2006, when its host got himself fired and publicly excoriated when he described female basketball players as "nappy-headed hoes."
Imus is something of a self-styled expert in a number of areas -- books, politics, music, health science -- but business and finance aren't high on the list. To Blodget, that means FBN owner Rupert Murdoch is "throwing in the towel on the idea of competing with CNBC with a full-time business channel."
But maybe it just means that Murdoch is acknowledging the need for a change of strategy after two years of somewhat anemic ratings growth. Today, Brian Stelter of The New York Times reported that, on average, Fox Business attracts a mere 29,000 primetime viewers, less than one-tenth of CNBC's audience.
If he brought along even a fraction of his current audience, Imus could easily give a huge boost to Fox Business' numbers. A cable news insider I spoke with believes that FBN could actually overtake CNBC in the morning by signing him. "I don't think you attract a guy like Imus to shut the channel down," says the source. "You bring a guy like Imus to set you up for the real business news of the day with a really big audience."
Indeed, MSNBC's simulcast of Imus in the Morning performed better in the Nielsens than Morning Joe, its current morning show, which is much celebrated among Beltway insiders. Moreover, notes the insider, while Imus admittedly isn't a financial-news expert, FBN could supplement his broadcast with regular break-ins from the world of business.
Regarding the theory that Fox Business' Imus strategy reeks of desperation, it is worth noting that the two sides were rumored to be in discussions as early as two years ago, when the channel was just starting up. A spokesman for Imus declined to comment.
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