Is Fusion Struggling…or a Struggle for Legacy Media to Understand?

By Mark Joyella Comment

The New York Times published a story Sunday by Ravi Somaiya and Brooks Barnes on Fusion, the mashup of Disney/ABC and Univision.

“Traditional media always look for signs of doom in newer media,” said Dan Gillmor, who teaches as ASU’s Cronkite School. “The @nytimes looks askance at @ThisIsFusion prospects, but it’s way, way too early to be writing it off.”

The story’s conclusion was blunt: that Fusion, despite millions of dollars and the power of two giant media brands, has struggled–to find an audience, and an identity:

Many inside and outside the company are hard pressed to define what exactly Fusion does. Traffic to its website has been anemic at times, and it has yet to deliver the kind of attention-getting stories that digital media rivals like Buzzfeed and Vice have produced.

Not everyone who read the story was convinced–and many suggested Fusion’s effort to craft something new was deserving of support, if not simply time–especially from the old media. News Corp SVP of strategy Raju Narisetti called the Times piece “a jaded take on fresh efforts in a jaded industry.”

ABC/Disney has committed an additional $30 million toward Fusion, based in part on promising reports audiences are responding.

The Times story did note that all that old media money may come with a few strings:

According to two senior Fusion staff members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Disney put the organization on notice that it would not take kindly to coverage that might dent its standing with consumers. The warning came after Fusion published several stories based on documents that hackers stole from Sony.

Fusion is not alone: In negotiations to create a Vice cable channel, Disney and Hearst insisted on a clause protecting the companies in the event that Vice content “embarrasses Hearst or Disney in any way,” according to people with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.