Imus Would Help Fox Business Build Its Audience, But Will It Help Publicists?

There was a report today in the Wall Street Journal that Fox Business Network  is negotiating to possibly simulcast the Don Imus syndicated radio show in an effort to boost its morning ratings.  Imus was fired from his powerful position at WFAN in New York back in 2007 after his comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team met with national protest because of their racist tone.  He has seemingly revived his career with a new show carried on Citadel Media, reaching 65 stations. The show is currently simulcast on the RFD Television network, a rural programming network seen in about 35 million homes, including DirecTV.

The move by Fox Business Network can be looked at in a number of ways.  For one, it may indicate that Imus’ image has recovered from the Rutgers disgrace.  Another may be an admission that Fox Business Network cannot compete with CNBC on a purely financial news basis, while  a third could be that the Imus ploy is a last gasp effort by Fox to increase its numbers.

Would Don Imus help spike the ratings of Fox Business Network? According to the Nielsen numbers mentioned in the Journal article, Fox Business Network ratings from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. averaged just 21,000 homes in June compared to CNBC which averages 232,000.  These numbers have not grown much since the Network’s debut a couple of years back.  When he was in his heyday on WFAN his show was simulcast on MSNBC but really did not help that network thrive.

While such a move would surely bring Fox Business broader visibility and potentially higher ratings, what will be its impact on the public relations industry? Right now, public relations executives can pitch their CEO’s and/or personalities to the existing Fox Business Money for Breakfast show for segments.  Despite the lower audience, it still is a targeted placement.  If morning programming on Fox Business Network becomes the Imus Show, then the opportunities to pitch segments may drop significantly, unless there is a major celebrity figure involved.

Media options are closing everyday.  Losing a programming vehicle that provides a platform for business stories in my opinion will be a detriment to the industry. 

The move also does nothing to further the brand of Fox Business Network.  Right now, Fox has its  own programming and on-air talent. By giving a four-hour programming block over to Don Imus, Fox is essentially turning financial news over to CNBC. One potential side effect could be that such a move would cut into the audience of their  sister network, Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends Show.  And, while a  move to Imus could have a positive short term impact for Fox Business Network, if it fails, what happens then?

Tom Cosentino

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