Some called last year the year of rebranding. You might call this one the year of network launches. Add Fusion, the joint venture between Univision and ABC News, to the list. Aiming to represent a younger, multicultural America, the Miami-headquartered network launches Monday in 20 million homes with a line up of news, lifestyle content and comedy programming. We caught up with its recently named CEO Isaac Lee, also pres of Univision News, and Ben Sherwood, pres, ABC News, to discuss the launch.
Much of Fusion’s programming slate focuses on satire. What influenced that decision?
Lee: It has to do with the research we’ve been doing for the past 2 years. Humor is a very important currency for this group of people. Satire is a way of getting the news in a non-filtered way and with transparency. So they would identify “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” as news, because they know that it’s satire…We have David Javerbaum, who was an executive producer of the Daily Show, working on a very innovative project with the Jim Henson company. For the first time you’re going to get to see animated anchors in a real set interviewing a real person.
What is your demo? Just English speakers of Hispanic origin, or bilinguals?
Lee: We are interested in 18-34 Millennials, regardless of their ethnicity, and who speak English. Where does the Hispanic element come in? Lee: The way we chose [our talent] is if they’re good. That’s the first and most the criteria. And in terms of content, what’s important to us is that we understand that 20% of Millennials are Hispanic. You cannot deny the influence that a growing percent of the population has to that psychographic. So it will influence in taste, music, culture and politics, the economy—and we don’t want to miss it.
There are many networks launching this year, particularly for Millennials. How do you plan to set yourself apart?
Sherwood: The mission of this new service is to champion a smart, inclusive and diverse America. Anyone who connects with Fusion is going to get smarter, is going to laugh, is going to understand what’s happening in a rapidly changing America. And I think that that mission is to connect people to the fastest growing, most exciting, most influential, most successful and most fun segment of the population—and that’s younger Americans.
It can be difficult for networks to gain full distribution prior to launch. What’s your strategy?
Sherwood: The business plan for Fusion has always envisioned a ramping up of the number of subscribers to the service on cable. So in the opening year the plan is around 20 million subscribers and by the 5th year the plan is to reach 60 million… The plan has always been to build with time, to start small, to start with humility and to build a fully integrated digital and multiplatform service that grows and becomes more robust in terms of its programming offerings with each growing year. We’re starting small, with big ambitions.
Millennials digest content on multiple platforms, so how are you tailoring your programming to that behavior?
Lee: Millennials watch 26 hours a week of television, which is a very healthy number, and we are going to create the best possible television to win in those 26 hours. But this is a digital network more than anything. So we’ve been doing a good job for 2 years, engaging with Millennials, testing things, understanding what they like, what they want. We have a robust social media effort. Today between digital and social media we reach 3.4 million people a week. We already came out with a website, Fusion.net. We are producing for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook… we are very aware that our audience learns what the news is first in social media. And the end result of all that process is we will also have a television show.
How will ABC News be involved with Fusion?
Lee: The truth is that we’re doing this together. Today I have here at least 20 people from ABC News helping us with all kinds of different things… from coaching our young producers to helping us in the control room, to advising us on the promos… and the same type of help I’m getting from Univision. It’s very clear how both companies are heavily invested in the future of Fusion and I am getting the best of both worlds.