New U.S. TV network fuses news, satire for young Hispanics
A technician works in the "Acquisition Room", which receives televison feeds from around the world, during an event to mark the opening of the new Univision and Fusion television networks newsroom in Doral
By Lisa Richwine and David Adams
LOS ANGELES/MIAMI (Reuters) - On Monday evening, U.S. cable network Fusion will launch with interviews of President Barack Obama and Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Later that night, four puppets will provide commentary on current events during a news chat show.
A joint venture between Walt Disney Co's ABC and Spanish-language media company Univision Communications Inc, Fusion will blend hard news, satire and pop culture to do something other cable news networks have largely failed to do: lure "millennial" viewers, 18 to 34 years old.
The target demographic for the new English-language channel is several decades younger than the audiences for CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, which pull in viewers with a median age of 60 or higher, according to media research company Nielsen.
The new channel will also test the market for TV news developed 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 say they hope the network will appeal more broadly and promise a diverse perspective. Some of its programming will feature a heavy dose of humor, a bid for viewers who keep up with current events through shows like "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."
Alongside newscasts with more traditional formats will be programs like "Sports Talkers," a satirical show hosted by members of the Harvard Sailing Team, a comedy troupe.
"News doesn't necessarily have to be boring," Fusion Chief Executive Officer Isaac Lee said in an interview from the network's Miami headquarters, explaining part of his strategy for Fusion.
Drawing viewers to a new cable network is not easy. Even media mogul Oprah Winfrey, with millions of loyal fans, struggled to establish an audience in the early days of her channel, OWN. Al Jazeera America has seen low ratings since the English-language news channel launched in August.
Fusion will start in 20 million homes, a fraction of CNN's 99 million, with a goal of reaching 60 million within five years, ABC News President Ben Sherwood said.
"The business model has been built around experimentation and growth," Sherwood said, with an eye toward positioning the network for the coming demographic changes. Looking ahead 35 years, "one in three Americans will be Hispanic, and Fusion has first-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 to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is projected to rise to 133 million by 2050.
U.S. Hispanics are younger than the country's broader population with a median age of 28, compared with 37 for the nation overall, according to Nielsen. The median age of a Univision prime-time viewer is 39.
But other cable news networks such as CNN and MSNBC have not found a way to get large numbers of millennials to tune in. "We just don't have any evidence, despite a lot of people talking about millennials, that they are craving news on cable television," said Merrill Brown, director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University and a former media executive who helped launch cable news network MSNBC.
'NEWS WITH AN ACCENT'