Analysis: A Subtle Change In Branding Marks a Big Change For Fusion

By Alex Weprin 

Fusion, the upcoming cable news channel from ABC News and Univision, has ever so slightly shifted its focus, and it is a big deal. The change wasn’t exactly buried in the press release, no, it was right there in the first sentence:

“Fusion, the groundbreaking news, information and lifestyle network for Latinos and millennials, today announced the channel will launch in millions of households nationwide.”

Latinos and millennials. Fusion now wants to become the cable news channel for the under-30 set, in addition to its original positioning as a “news and lifestyle network for U.S. Hispanics,” which is how the channel was described when the name was announced in February.

On the one hand the move is an obvious one. Traditional cable news channels skew old, and in some cases very old. Fox News Channel’s average viewer is over 65, while the average MSNBC or CNN viewer is around 60, according to Nielsen. Your typical cable news anchor or host is an older, white male, with both women and minorities represented well below their representation in the country as a whole.

The median age of U.S. Hispanics is 27, compared to 37 for the country as a whole, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, so targeting that demographic is naturally targeting younger viewers.

Fusion is betting that younger people actually want to get news and analysis from TV, not just from sites like BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post. To that end it has stacked its lineup with young hosts and anchors, although its signature nightly program will be anchored by the decidedly older (albeit well-respected) Jorge Ramos. It is also making a major push for news/satire programming, with a sports news comedy show at launch, and a project with the Jim Henson Company in the works.

Fusion is not the only channel trying to enter the space, others have the same idea too.

Al Jazeera America, for all of the bloviating surrounding its launch, is trying to appeal to younger viewers fed up with the traditional outlets. It has some compelling interactive programs in the works, and it appears to have more women and minorities on-air than its traditional competitors, but it is still unclear whether younger viewers will want to tune in to international news in large numbers. AJAM is shaping up to be, at its heart, a rather traditional cable news channel. It is also worth noting that Current TV, the predecessor to AJAM, attempted to appear to younger viewers too, and failed to do so in any meaningful way.

Pivot, which launched this week, is another attempt at luring the “cord-never” crowd to TV. It will have a mix of scripted and unscripted shows, with a heavy focus on documentaries, and a nightly current events talk show co-hosted by HuffPost Live alumni Jacob Soboroff and Cara Santa Maria. In fact, Pivot is partnering with Univision on a documentary series, resulting in the Spanish-language channel competing with itself.

Music mogul Diddy is launching a Millennial-targeting channel too, Revolt, although it looks more MTV than CNN.

With younger viewers being underserved by the existing players, there is a rush to fill that vacuum. Executives at ABC and Univision clearly recognized that and are hoping to fill most of it themselves, shifting somewhat from their original plan to do so.

There is also the money factor: advertisers buy demographics, and younger demographics are more valuable than older ones. Most advertisers will pay better for 18-49 year olds than the 25-54 year olds that news channels target. MTV has always done well by selling to 12-34 year olds. If successful, Fusion or these other channels can attract advertisers that currently eschew traditional cable news channels.

There are still a slew of unknowns, most importantly whether or not younger viewers actually want to watch TV to get news and information in the same numbers their parents and grandparents do, but there is an opportunity.

Fusion–and others–are attempting to seize it.