Why Don Imus won't rescue Fox Business

It looks like Don Imus really is headed for Fox Business Network. The crag-faced radio host is parting ways with RFD-TV, the small cable network that has simulcast his show for nearly two years, in what appears to be a precursor to a move to Fox Business, with whom he's reported to be in advanced negotiations.

But will Imus's arrival be a good or bad thing for Fox? That's a complicated question. As I've written, Imus is likely to bring a substantial part of his large following with him to Fox Business. And given FBN's infinitesimal viewership to date, it won't take much of a boost to move the needle.
On the other hand, Imus isn't a business guy, and a simulcast of Imus in the Morning won't play as a business show, no matter how many break-ins and fancy graphics FBN gussies it up with. From a branding standpoint, this means Fox Business could soon be in a position where its most popular show is the one that least reflects the network's mission. You have to wonder if that's a worthwhile trade-off.

I put this question to a very knowledgeable business-news insider. He didn't seem to think it was a problem for Fox Business. "All of these brands are flexible," he said. "CNBC's brand is flexible enough that they can run infomercials, right?"

True enough. But that brand has already been established, and effectively. CNBC has been such a cash cow for NBC Universal not because it attracts so many eyeballs -- it's tiny compared to Fox News or CNN -- but because the people those eyeballs belong to are executives and financial professionals whom advertisers are willing to pay a premium to reach.

Imus in the Morning isn't going to attract those people. Moreover, I'm willing to bet the viewers it does attract won't stick around for other FBN programming, and won't stay loyal to the network if and when its deal with Imus ends.

So maybe signing Imus will benefit Fox Business. But the benefit will be limited and short-lived.
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