'Winking at Hispanic': Where Does TV's New Fusion Channel Fit?

By Jeanine Poggi, Advertising Age

There are few parts of the media business growing as quickly as Hispanic media, which would seem to make Fusion, the cable news channel for millennials that begins transmitting tonight, a sure thing for co-founders Univision and Walt Disney Co. But as competitors add their own new channels variously focused on Hispanics, young people and news, where will Fusion fit?

The motivation to the network is clear: Hispanic media spending is growing faster than the general market, increasing 11% to $7.9 billion in 2012, according to Ad Age's Hispanic Fact Pack. TV accounts for most of that spending, at $5.8 billion, but just $246 million goes to Hispanic cable TV networks.

Fusion seeks to change that ratio by targeting millennial Hispanics with hard news, news satire, sports and commentary in English. The vision for the channel has changed since it was first announced, moreover, to primarily go after young viewers with a nod to Hispanics, not an overwhelming focus.

"We are winking at Hispanic, it is not overtly Hispanic," said Catherine Sullivan, senior VP-ABC News Sales.

"If you are not Hispanic, you won't feel like the network isn't for me," she added.

The approach is a seismic shift for Univision, which has always resisted English-language programming but has come to realize that even though the network's ratings are going up, demographic trends are shifting from foreign-born, Spanish-dominant Hispanics to U.S.-born Latinos who are growing up as English speakers.

"I think this will be very successful," said Marc Morse, senior VP-national broadcast, RJ Palmer. "Yes, you can find Hispanic viewers in other places, but marketers who dedicate time and money on programming specifically targeting the Hispanic market have greater recall."

While Spanish-language networks like Univision have been growing by leaps and bounds, Caleb Windover, VP-managing director at MediaVest's multicultural arm, MV42, said there is a void in programming that speaks to millennial Hispanics in a relevant way. He notes one in three millennials are Latino.

"They are watching general entertainment TV, but not as much as you would think," Mr. Windover said.

It's this gap that is prompting people like filmmaker Robert Rodriguez to also get into the market. His cable channel, El Rey, is expected to premiere before the end of the year in a deal with Comcast, and will air English-language entertainment programming for millennials, leaning toward young Latinos. El Rey also has the backing of Univision, which made an undisclosed investment in the channel this spring.

Early original programming includes an adaptation of "From Dusk Till Dawn," where the lead character will be Hispanic.

Not just Hispanics
"Because [millennials are] the most ethnically diverse generation in history, we are focused on making sure that generation sees itself well represented on the screen," said Michael Finn, senior VP-sales and marketing at El Rey.

But, like Fusion, El Rey's targeting of Hispanics will sometimes be subtle. "We are not targeting Hispanics with Spanish-language ads or programming, and our consumer ad campaign won't target Hispanics, but we do expect them to come because of the programming, along with the general market millennials," Mr. Finn said.

El Rey and Fusion are bringing new tactics to a battle that's been underway for some time. Mun2 has been targeting young Latinos since it was acquired by Telemundo in 2001. The cable channel, which is in over 40 million homes, airs a mix of Spanish and English-language programming, averaging 89,000 total viewers in prime-time during the third quarter. (Fusion will initially be available in about 20 million Cablevision, Charter, Cox, AT&T U-verse and Google Fiber homes.)

Nuvo TV has been catering to the demographic since 2004, when it started out under the name Si TV, becoming the first cable channel that catered to the Hispanic market with solely English-language programming. Currently in about 30 million households, Nuvo now touts Jennifer Lopez as a stakeholder, its chief creative officer and the face of the channel.

Nuvo CEO Michael Schwimmer said over 60% of Latinos in the U.S. are born here -- and watch 70% to 90% of their programming in English. Marketers are making a mistake by putting the vast majority of their Hispanic ad budgets into Spanish-language channels, he said.

"The millennial Latino is not being served by telenovelas, soccer -- this isn't relevant to most millennials," Mr. Schwimmer said.

That leaves an opening for channels such as Nuvo, according to Mr. Schwimmer, who said just 4% of characters in prime-time TV are Hispanic, and often stereotypical when present. "No one has questioned should there be a BET or do women need a channel for themselves," he said.

Millennials remain elusive
While there may be a void in programming speaking directly to Hispanic millennials, reaching them isn't easy. No matter the ethnicity, the millennial viewer is elusive. Several new cable networks, including Pivot and Sean "Diddy" Combs' Revolt, are also looking to take a piece of the pie.

In the news space, too, there's been a bustle of activity, with networks like Al Jazeera America and Glenn Beck's The Blaze looking to fill in white space left by Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.

Fusion has the added challenge of using TV news to win millennials. It has been hard enough for networks like CNN to figure out how to attract an older demographic; it's even harder to appeal to a generation that relies heavily on the internet and social media for their news. So Fusion is also likely to look first for stories not at the Associated Press but internet chatter, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

Fusion pointed to data that says millennials still watch over 26 hours of linear TV per week. Its plan to win share involves infusing comedy and "irreverence" throughout programming, with shows akin to Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." From 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. there will be a satire block led David Javerbaum, former executive producer and head writer for "The Daily Show," which includes a sports show and animated news program.

Familiar faces like Univision anchor Jorge Ramos and Los Angeles broadcaster Leon Krauze will lead Fusion's prime-time block of news. "The Morning Show" will run from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays. And on weekends, there will be a mix of documentaries and originals like "Strange Medicine," a 12-part quest to find the strangest cures and most exotic medicines from around the world, and "Back Home," which follows a different taste-maker each week as they travel to their family's home country.

It will also benefit from combined backing of its parent companies, media behemoths with extensive avenues to promote their new network. If anyone can break through the clutter in Fusion's core concentrations, media buyers agreed, it's a network with the backing of Disney and Univision.

Contributing: Laurel Wentz