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There's No News Like Fluffy Biz News

Keeping it light is Fox's strategy for challenging CNBC.

Fox business network takes fluff to a whole new level, even by the standards of cable news. Watch the channel's Happy Hour show and get business tips from the Mannheim Steamroller band's Chip Davis from a bar in New York City's Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Or listen as America's Nightly Scoreboard rates the chances that a new book by comic Sacha Baron Cohen (better known as Borat) will succeed.

The sugar-sweet programming seems designed to make the "medicine" of real business news more palatable. Fox Business executives say the channel wants to broaden its audience beyond those viewers who would regularly watch CNBC and the geekier Bloomberg Television. But how are breathless interviews with British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson or the Naked Cowboy, a New York City street performer, any different than the pablum that permeates the rest of cable news?

Fox Business, which launched October 15, excels at promoting itself and the products of its parent company, News Corp. Money for Breakfast, the channel's morning show, ran a sappy segment about how the New Orleans cop show K-Ville -- which runs on the Fox network -- has boosted the Big Easy's economy. It's as if you're watching a commercial for business news instead of actual business news.

Frivolity often gets in the way of a good TV story. When U.S. Treasury secretary Henry Paulson gave a revealing speech about U.S.-China economic policy in October, CNBC and Bloomberg covered some of Paulson's remarks live. Meanwhile, Fox Business ran a piece about the business of college football's Bowl Championship Series.


Don't expect Fox Business to revolutionize the format. On weekends, it's the same old infomercials for get-rich-quick schemes and other junk you find on CNBC. "We decided we couldn't boil the ocean," says Kevin Magee, executive vice-president at Fox Business. "So we attacked Monday through Friday first."

Yet watching Fox Business reveals at least one gem: The Dave Ramsey Show. Ramsey, already a popular author and radio-show host, prods his viewers to shed their debts and save more.

And Fox Business has a better stock ticker than its competitors. The ticker identifies the company, stock symbol, share price, gain or loss, and the sector of the economy to which the stock belongs. That makes it more useful than the whirl of data that blazes across the bottom of the screen on CNBC and Bloomberg.

In time, Fox Business may grow up. Many of CNBC's best anchors were recruited from the ranks of the Wall Street Journal, and News Corp. was on course to complete the purchase of Dow Jones, the Journal's parent company, in late 2007. But Fox Business doesn't have carte-blanche access to Journal staffers until 2012 because of a preexisting pact between CNBC and Dow Jones. After the kinks are ironed out, let's hope Dow Jones veterans can add a degree of class to a network that seems to think it can lure viewers only with fluff.