New U.S. TV network fuses news, satire for young Hispanics

Reuters

By Lisa Richwine and David Adams

LOS ANGELES/MIAMI, Oct 27 (Reuters) - On Monday evening,U.S. cable network Fusion will launch with interviews ofPresident Barack Obama and Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Laterthat night, four puppets will provide commentary on currentevents during a news chat show.

A joint venture between Walt Disney Co's ABC andSpanish-language media company Univision Communications Inc, Fusion will blend hard news, satire and pop culture todo something other cable news networks have largely failed todo: lure "millennial" viewers, 18 to 34 years old.

The target demographic for the new English-language channelis several decades younger than the audiences for CNN, MSNBC andFox News, which pull in viewers with a median age of 60 orhigher, according to media research company Nielsen.

The new channel will also test the market for TV newsdeveloped for Hispanics, the fastest growing segment of the U.S.population, but delivered in English rather than Spanish.

Fusion is aiming for young Latinos, though executives saythey hope the network will appeal more broadly and promise adiverse perspective. Some of its programming will feature aheavy dose of humor, a bid for viewers who keep up with currentevents through shows like "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

Alongside newscasts with more traditional formats will beprograms like "Sports Talkers," a satirical show hosted bymembers of the Harvard Sailing Team, a comedy troupe.

"News doesn't necessarily have to be boring," Fusion ChiefExecutive Officer Isaac Lee said in an interview from thenetwork's Miami headquarters, explaining part of his strategyfor Fusion.

Drawing viewers to a new cable network is not easy. Evenmedia mogul Oprah Winfrey, with millions of loyal fans,struggled to establish an audience in the early days of herchannel, OWN. Al Jazeera America has seen low ratings since theEnglish-language news channel launched in August.

Fusion will start in 20 million homes, a fraction of CNN's99 million, with a goal of reaching 60 million within fiveyears, ABC News President Ben Sherwood said.

"The business model has been built around experimentationand growth," Sherwood said, with an eye toward positioning thenetwork for the coming demographic changes. Looking ahead 35years, "one in three Americans will be Hispanic, and Fusion hasfirst-mover advantage in this space," he said.

About 53 million Hispanics live in the United States,accounting for about 17 percent of the population, according tothe U.S. Census Bureau. That number is projected to rise to 133million by 2050.

U.S. Hispanics are younger than the country's broaderpopulation with a median age of 28, compared with 37 for thenation overall, according to Nielsen. The median age of aUnivision prime-time viewer is 39.

But other cable news networks such as CNN and MSNBC have notfound a way to get large numbers of millennials to tune in. "Wejust don't have any evidence, despite a lot of people talkingabout millennials, that they are craving news on cabletelevision," said Merrill Brown, director of the School ofCommunication and Media at Montclair State University and aformer media executive who helped launch cable news networkMSNBC.

'NEWS WITH AN ACCENT'

Some millennials prefer online video options such as Netflix, and constantly check their mobile phones and computersthroughout the day, digesting headlines on Twitter and Facebook.Fusion's Lee said the network will engage its audience throughits website and social media, then provide context and in-depthreporting on television, along with comedy.

"When (millennials) get to a television and they see a show,they expect much more than just the breaking news," Lee said."They would like to have the interpretation and the context ofwhat happened."

Fusion will also provide edited-down content online, such asclips of the interviews with Obama and Cruz, the Texas senatorwho is a favorite of the conservative Tea Party, via itswebsite, Fusion.net.

Univision is responsible for developing Fusion's programmingand will deliver the news from a 150,000-square-foot(14,000-square-metre) studio in Miami, nicknamed "Newsport,"that will combine the newsrooms of Univision and Fusion.

Jorge Ramos, one of Univision's two longtime news anchors,will present the nightly news in Spanish at 6:30 p.m., beforeditching his tie, and at times going for jeans and a sweater, tohost a new one-hour show on Fusion at 8 p.m., called "Americawith Jorge Ramos."

A youthful-looking 55-year-old bilingual, Ramos said hisFusion show will stick to a traditional news format with anemphasis on Latin America and domestic U.S. themes of interestto Hispanics.

"I'm saying it's going to be news with an accent," he said."Young people are more into this global economy. Millennials arereally engaged with issues such as the environment andtechnology."

Ramos complains politicians ignore the Hispanic populationexcept at election time. Last year he famously grilled Obama forfailing to make good on his promise of delivering immigrationreform in his first term. Fusion, Ramos said, "is giving us thepossibility to be part of the national conversation."

In addition to "America," the evening lineup will feature aninteractive show with Derrick Ashong, a talk show host andmusician who was born in Ghana and raised in the Middle East and New Jersey. Greek-American comedian Yannis Pappas, popularon YouTube, will be part of Fusion's morning show.

David Javerbaum, an Emmy-winning former writer for "TheDaily Show," was hired to develop prime-time comedy programs,including a half-hour news comedy called "No, You Shut Up,"featuring the four-puppet panel as commentators.

Fusion will turn to ABC reporters for news from around theworld, and for special events such as election night coverage.The Disney team will handle ad sales and distribution forFusion, bringing the ability to sell it to cable operators in apackage with its popular sports channel, ESPN.

ABC also provides a platform to promote Fusion. Last week,Fusion anchor Alicia Menendez guest-hosted ABC talk show "TheView," weighing in on topics from a Los Angeles school districtplan to separate students based on their fluency in English toreality television star Kim Kardashian's engagement. Ramos hasbeen a guest on ABC's "This Week" hosted by GeorgeStephanopoulos.

Fusion is hoping to cash in on advertisers' awareness of thegrowing purchasing power of Hispanics, estimated to rise to $1.5trillion by 2015 from $1 trillion in 2010, according to a 2012study by Nielsen.

Advertisers may still take some persuading to break with along-held tradition of reaching Hispanics in Spanish.

About 56 percent of Hispanic adults speak primarily Spanishat home, compared with 40 percent who speak primarily English.

"The mantra of Spanish to reach Hispanics is still verystrong," said Arturo Villar, publisher of Hispanic MarketWeekly. "A lot of advertisers are afraid of trying to do it inEnglish."

The concept of providing either bilingual orEnglish-language content for the Hispanic market is gainingtraction, said Joe Zubizarreta, owner of the Hispanic agencyZubi Advertising, based in Miami.

"It is still not at the levels where we are seeing majorratings in any of the networks that are doing it, but there is alot of positive momentum from the millennials standpoint," hesaid.

Fusion's timing may be right, said Luis Miguel Messianu, whoheads Alma, a multicultural ad agency in Miami. He pointed outthat U.S.-born Hispanics now account for more growth in theLatino population than immigrants.

"Culture is the new language," Messianu said. "The decisionof language is secondary. It's about common bonds more thandemographics."

The name Fusion is a smart choice, he added. "It's all aboutfusion. Everything is like a mesh, it's happening in music,fashion, sports and food, the boundaries are not as clear."

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