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Maria Bartiromo's big day with Fox Business Network is arriving

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For Maria Bartiromo, it was time to take stock.

"Sometimes in life you have to have a little courage," the longtime star of business channel CNBC said over the phone. "I wanted to try something new, something in which I could learn and grow."

After 20 years, Bartiromo gave up her comfortable perch at CNBC and moved to rival Fox Business Network, where on Monday she debuts a live, two-hour morning show, "Opening Bell With Maria Bartiromo."

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CNBC may have nearly three times the audience of Fox Business, but her defection is a big loss. Bartiromo had long been the face of the network.

She made history in 1995 as the first journalist to broadcast live each day from the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange and has won two Emmys, one for her coverage of the 2007-08 financial crisis. She also helped define signature CNBC shows, including "Squawk Box," and "Closing Bell."

Bartiromo hopes to do the same at Fox Business. In addition to "Opening Bell," next month, she will host a Sunday morning program delving into business topics on the juggernaut Fox News Channel.

Bartiromo's high-profile switch comes at a tumultuous time. Cable news channels have been struggling to hold onto their audiences and recruit younger viewers prized by advertisers. Financial news channels have been particularly hard hit. Investors now can get customized stock news on smartphones and tablets as well as computers. There's increased competition online. And on TV, CNBC, which has long dominated the space, must now compete with Bloomberg TV and Fox Business Network.

CNBC last fall offered Bartiromo a new contract, but Fox executives showed more interest — and more money. (Terms of her new contract were not disclosed, but she reportedly will be making between $5 million and $6 million a year.)

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Bartiromo has enormous appeal, said Aaron Brown, a former CNN anchor and ABC correspondent who teaches journalism at Arizona State University.

"I'm assuming [Fox] threw a lot of dough at her," Brown said. "But it's like a high-priced ticket into the witness protection program."

Fox Business Network's audience is tiny. The 6-year-old channel averages fewer than 70,000 viewers during key daytime hours. Initially a pet project of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the outlet has failed to duplicate the lightning-in-a-bottle success of Fox News Channel, which rocketed to the top of the cable news standings within six years of its debut. Fox News Channel boasts 1.2 million viewers a day.

But financial news channels are a narrow niche. And ratings giant Nielsen does not measure viewing that occurs in offices, brokerages, hotels, restaurants and gyms — which eliminates a large swath of the audience that regularly tunes in to catch the market news and CEO interviews.

Fox Business is available in more than 70 million homes in the U.S., nearly three-quarters of all homes with pay TV. CNBC, meanwhile, is received in nearly 100 million homes and averages 192,000 viewers in daytime.

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"To create a channel from zero is enormously challenging," said Kevin Magee, executive vice president of Fox Business Network. "We've had to convince people that there was another cable business channel out there."

Bartiromo should help raise the profile of Fox Business and perhaps prompt loyal CNBC watchers to change the channel.

CNBC has seen its audience decline in recent years. Its daytime audience in 2013 was about 30% lower than 2010 levels, according to Nielsen audience estimates. A CNBC spokesman declined to discuss the network's ratings.

Bartiromo's arrival represents "a tipping point for us," Magee said. "We are already moving the needle, and Maria will help us enormously. She's got great experience, a terrific Rolodex and perspective. She has seen the ups and downs of the market, and they don't fluster her."

Former CNN anchor Brown agreed: "Maria is a really good niche player. She's got great TV presence."

The move reunites Bartiromo with Roger Ailes, the powerful Fox News chairman. He hired Bartiromo for her first on-air role in 1993 at CNBC, when Ailes ran that channel. Before that, the twentysomething Bartiromo was working off-camera on the overnight shift as a writer and producer for CNN Business News.

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"Roger and I hit if off immediately. I knew it went well, so right after the [job] interview I went in to New York City and bought two dresses, thinking, 'I'm going to be on TV!'" the Brooklyn native, now 46, recalled with a laugh.

Bartiromo quickly made her mark at CNBC and became known as the "Money Honey." She once tried to trademark the nickname but abandoned the effort. In many ways, the moniker trivialized her hard work and, over the years, it also became less unusual to see a smart, good-looking woman talking business on TV.

On her last day with CNBC in late November, New York Stock Exchange traders gave her a standing ovation, or "clap-off," a sign of respect usually reserved for fellow traders.

Both Bartiromo and Magee acknowledged that the ubiquitous nature of stock quotes and company news has forced TV executives to reassess how they present financial news.

"For a while, it was all about the stock market, but today people want something different," Bartiromo said. "They want more perspective on the news and more in-depth conversations."

For the next few weeks, Bartiromo will concentrate on her Fox Business "Opening Bell" program. But she's also excited about her Sunday morning show for Fox News Channel, expected to launch in late March. She said she plans to steer clear of politics and focus on business.

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Most Sunday talk shows, Bartiromo said, have been reduced to "both sides of the aisle giving their talking points with nobody connecting the dots."

"I'm not looking to get into political fights or politicize business," Bartiromo said. "I'm looking for the facts. I want to say: Hey, Mr. Tim Cook of Apple, you have billions of dollars overseas. What is it going to take to bring some of that money back to the U.S.? What should tax reform look like?"

Bartiromo acknowledged it was "a tough decision" to leave CNBC.

"That was my home for 20 years, and I very much felt that I helped to grow and establish the CNBC brand globally," she said. "But I have no hard feelings."

Earlier this month, when she walked into the midtown Manhattan headquarters of 21st Century Fox, she felt her stomach tighten a little.

"I felt just like a kid on the first day of school," she said. "But I love the subject matter: the markets. I feel energized, I'm ready to rock."

meg.james@latimes.com

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'Opening Bell With Maria Bartiromo'

Where: Fox Business Network

When: 6 a.m. weekdays

Rating: Not rated

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