DOBBS CHANNELS HIS ENERGY INTO NEW CNNFN;BUSINESS NEWS OUTLET MOVES INTO NICHE THAT FACES GROWING NUMBER OF COMPETITORS

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On jan. 2, lou dobbs broke what may be the most important business news story of his career. But Mr. Dobbs didn't report it, he was it.

Less than a year after receiving a request from his boss Ted Turner, Mr. Dobbs, exec VP and chief business news anchor of CNN, gave birth to CNNfn, an all-business news spin-off channel that is the latest entrant in a burgeoning battleground of electronic business news services.

It was an awesome task for Mr. Dobbs, who as one of CNN's earliest news anchors pioneered TV business news, creating such staples as CNN's "Moneyline" and "Managing With Lou Dobbs."

Now Mr. Dobbs is responsible for programming 12 hours each weekday, shows that are carried by CNNfn's affiliates to about 5.5 million subscribers nationwide.

That's still a fraction of the 56 million U.S. TV households that receive CNNfn's rival CNBC, but Mr. Dobbs believes expansion will come quickly.

"We've been on the air three days," he said Jan. 3. "The first day, we broke the story that there would be more layoffs at AT&T. On Monday we broke the story that Lucille Ball's memoirs had been found. And yesterday, we broke the December retail sales figures. This day is still early."

More than just breaking news, Mr. Dobbs said the goal is to make CNNfn accessible and compelling enough to attract a significant share of general viewers.

Toward that end, Mr. Dobbs is looking forward to the pending merger of CNNfn parent Turner Broadcasting System and Time Warner, which will give him access to Time Warner's business news franchises, including Time, Fortune and Money magazines.

But launching CNNfn may have been the easy part. Now Mr. Dobbs and his crew must contend with competition from CNBC, from its planned general news sister channel MSNBC, being launched by NBC and Microsoft Corp. in 1996; and from Dow Jones & Co.'s and ITT Corp.'s imminent business news and sports channel.

But he is optimistic about CNNfn's prospects. By late spring, the channel expects to qualify for Nielsen ratings and all of the 20-plus charter advertisers have received guaranteed media buys. American Express Co., Anheuser-Busch, Chrysler Corp., IBM Corp., Johnson & Johnson, General Motors Corp. and Sprint have all made 52-week buys.

"We have gotten three times the number of ad dollars at launch that we had projected in our original business plan to the Turner board back in June," said Mr. Dobbs. "We think that is a wonderful indicator of future success."

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