Red-state Republican he's not, but he sure can sell Fox

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Paul Rittenberg is not what you might expect of the top sales guy at News Corp.'s Fox News Channel. Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he graduated from Princeton and worked as a D.J. Now he lives in the decidedly "blue-state" media enclave of Park Slope, Brooklyn, vacations in Maine and is married to a New York literary agent. He even admits voting for Bill Clinton once.

When Mr. Rittenberg, 50, walks through his neighborhood carrying his Fox News bag, people sometimes shout criticism at him. When he's on a business trip in Dallas, however, people will approach him enthusiastically and ask him whether he knows Shepard Smith.

That kind of fan is exactly who Mr. Rittenberg wants to sell the advertiser on. He wants to position the Fox News Channel as the supplier of a very involved type of viewer, people who have an emotional connection to the service. "They're more committed," he said of the Fox News audience. "What I'm trying to sell is much more akin to a print pitch."

As Mr. Rittenberg, who has been with the channel since it was "a few guys sitting around a conference room talking about distribution," sits in his office high above Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, he explained why he believes "The O'Reilly Factor" may be the place to convince new advertisers of that argument.

a `water-cooler' show

"There's not much more missionary work to do in terms of increasing budgets. We are probably not going to get Hasbro or Electronic Arts [to advertise], but some day I want to get a movie studio to buy a Thursday-night position in `O'Reilly.' This is water-cooler programming for a lot of people." Bill O'Reilly's 8 p.m. show regularly draws 3 million viewers with its coverage of controversial subjects such as whether secular society is trying to do away with Christmas.

Mr. Rittenberg's goal is to reap $500 million in ad revenue in 2005. Ad revenue makes up around two thirds of the channel's income, the other third comes from affiliate revenue. According to Fox News figures, that will be up from nowhere back in 1996, $300 million in `03 and $400 million in 2004. Soon, Mr. Rittenberg will have a second channel to sell, the as-yet-unnamed Fox News business channel; News Corp. Chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch announced the launch soon after Time Warner confirmed the closure of CNNfn.

Mr. Rittenberg says he has few details as yet about the channel, though it is predicted to be as entertaining and controversial as sibling The New York Post. Inside Fox News there's speculation that business chief Neil Cavuto will be involved. Still others suggest that former General Electric CEO Jack Welch might play a role. All Mr. Rittenberg is certain about is that the business channel needs distribution.

Mr. Rittenberg studied under Irwin Gotlieb and Marc Goldstein at WPP Group during the early part of his career. "The truth has come out," said Mr. Gotlieb. "Underneath the cynical, wise-ass exterior is a very competent media mind. Certainly competent enough to have been one of the stars at one of the toughest classes in the media world."

Mr. Rittenberg came to Fox News after a stint at CNBC. At the time, CNBC was run by Roger Ailes, who helped found Fox News. While Mr. Rittenberg said he liked NBC, he said that it ultimately wasn't a good fit for either man.

When asked what has made the channel successful, Mr. Rittenberg cites a recent study from the Pew Center for People and the Press that revealed many people didn't believe the network news.

"That's clearly a marketing opportunity for anyone who chooses to take it," he said. "To quote Roger, everybody went to the same journalism school. ... It's not representative of the country or the market. ... Having said that, our success doesn't have much to do with politics; it's better TV. It's more exciting, the graphics are better, it's faster-paced."

Just Asking

Q: What's it like to work for Fox News Chairman-CEO Roger Ailes?

A: The way we got to this level is pushing. It really does come from the top down. Any successful TV operation has a very domineering talented sometimes difficult strong person in charge of the operation, Roger has pursued an agenda of constantly trying to make the channel better. We can get a 1.7 and Roger will say I want a 2 Friday night. He is sparing of praise.

Q: What else does Ailes bring?

A: One of our advantages is Roger, who sits and watches our competitors all day long. I guarantee his counterparts don't watch TV, if they watch, they watch on a PVR without commercials and say, "Hey, that babe looks cute." The experience of our viewers is something Roger is very tuned in to.

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