Stuart Varney's Fresh Approach to Business Television

Winning the war against CNBC

Stuart Varney at FOX Studios on August 5, 2011 in New York City / Getty Images
November 24, 2019

Stuart Varney is winning the war against CNBC.

Varney & Co. has trounced CNBC—the once-dominant channel Varney called his "principal competitor" in 2016—for three consecutive years in the ratings. For the British-born Fox Business host, the show's success is attributable to much more than strong market coverage.

"We try to entertain, that's what we try to do," Varney told the Washington Free Beacon. "I think people have an enormous amount of choice, and I want to stand out. And I think you can stand out by being different, in the sense that you cover money, and politics, in a different, fast-paced kind of way."

"I think that's the basic reason for our success."

That and the music. Varney & Co. routinely features modern, upbeat music throughout its three-hour program from artists like Rihanna and Justin Timberlake—hardly the selection one would expect from the show's 71-year-old host. While Varney admitted he'd rather fill the program with classic rock, he recognizes the appeal of offering music "spread across the age spectrum."

"With the music, we just want to be lively, upbeat, and positive, and we try to choose music that advances that," said Varney. "Our producers go to great lengths to come up with age-appropriate music spread across the age spectrum."

"I'm a Beatles guy, I'm a Stones guy, I wish I could play more Jimi Hendrix, but that's not quite suitable always for my show, and I'm in love with Eric Clapton's guitar playing," Varney added. "But believe me, we have a much wider selection of music than just what I like."

The show's music reflects Varney's preference for modern, accessible business television. He's quick to rebuke the financial jargon that traditionally dominates market programming, instead opting for company-focused content that is more familiar to the average viewer.

"We try to approach business in a very different way," Varney explained. "I never used jargon, I never used the expression 'QE3.' I don't spend that much time on the Federal Reserve 'cause I barely understand what they're on about."

Varney also acknowledged the growing appetite for financial news as Democrats vilify Wall Street despite the nation's strong economy.

"Wall Street is being demonized, at the moment, like I've rarely seen it demonized in the past," Varney said. "I think it's my job to point out what Wall Street is doing, what its function is, and how well it's doing for America."

Varney said business journalists should focus on the function of markets, rather than appealing to political activists with caricatures. He estimated that the average pension plan has experienced 30 to 40 percent gains during the ongoing economic boom—a fact business reporters who train their sights on banker compensation rarely mention.

"You may have heard me say very frequently, there are 55 million Americans with a 401(k), there are 35 million Americans with an IRA [retirement account], and all of these people, tens of millions of people, have done extremely well in this stock market rally," continued Varney. "I see it as my job to counter the demonization of Wall Street by pointing out all the good that it does, and I've got a very receptive audience for that, I think."

The Varney & Co. message is clearly well received—the show routinely ranks as the number one daytime business program on television.

"My job is, get that audience, keep that audience, entertain them, for heaven's sake. What's wrong with that?" he said.