Fox Biz chief returns fire

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CNBC was pitted against the Fox Business Network at the Future of Business Media Conference here on Tuesday, and the showdown stayed mostly congenial despite some barbs.

In one Q&A session, Neil Cavuto, senior vp, anchor and managing editor of News Corp.'s FBN and Fox News Channel, shrugged off the budding rivalry and signaled little interest in poaching CNBC star Jim Cramer after some raids by FBN on its rival's talent. In response to a question about Cramer, Cavuto said: "We had an opportunity to consider a show about shouting, and we said no."

Meanwhile, Mark Hoffman, president of the NBC Universal-owned CNBC, said it's too early in the game to say where a showdown between the two channels could lead.

Cavuto expressed frustration with how CNBC has used Wall Street Journal reporters in light of the pending acquisition of WSJ parent Dow Jones by News Corp.

CNBC has an exclusive contract to use WSJ reporters for its business stories until 2012, while FBN has only been using the reporters for non-business-related stories.

Cavuto said that before the acquisition, CNBC was not as interested in using the reporters as they are now. He compared the network's actions to the way one kid only wants to play with a toy that another kid is playing with.

Commenting further on Dow Jones, Cavuto said that once the sale becomes final, "there's a lot we can look at." He said that the online presence of Dow Jones, which includes MarketWatch and Barrons in addition to the Wall Street Journal's Web site, could be a part of FBN's Web strategy.

When asked about FBN, which is broadcast to 30 million homes, Hoffman said that with 95 million viewers in North America and 390 million worldwide for CNBC, it would be unfair to compare the two networks.

Rather, he said, FBN "deserves credit" for launching the channel, which is a "very, very tough" thing to do. This echoed comments from NBC Uni CEO Jeff Zucker on Monday, during which he got in several digs, too.

"We'll see six months from now what they think they'll be," Hoffman said of FBN, which launched on Oct. 15. "In a year, I think they'll be in a rhythm."

During his session, which was held a couple hours before Hoffman's, Cavuto repeatedly invoked News chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch's assertion that FBN was for "Main Street."

He said that instead of focusing on competition with CNBC or Bloomberg, the business news industry, as a whole, should try to expand the audience.

"Who says you have to turn off the sophisticated audience by trying to appeal to the mainstream?" said Cavuto. "Why not try to invite them in?"

Hoffman had a decidedly different take on CNBC's scope and readily admitted that there are people who will never watch his channel.

"We're not for everybody," Hoffman said. "This whole discussion about Main Street or Wall Street -- we're for any street where people are interested in money. We're focused on people with money and people who want to have money."

Cavuto couldn't resist a few other digs at CNBC. He said that people interested in the "price of tin in Malaysia" could still go to CNBC. "If you want tin, they're all tin," he quipped.
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