‘Fusion’ targets Hispanics, 2016
By: Mackenzie Weinger
October 26, 2013 06:16 PM EDT
Fusion, the new cable channel aimed at Latino millennials, debuts next week — and the network is already betting it can shake up media coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign.
With traditional primetime news reports and shows, a nightly satire block, and original programs, the English-language network from ABC News and Univision, which launches on Monday, is making a major play for one of the most sought after demographics in media and politics. And if the experiment that is geared toward a young Hispanic audience works, the network could make a major impact on the political news landscape, according to media experts, campaign operatives, and members of the Fusion team.
Of course, there’s high risk in launching a new network and trying to break into the heavily saturated world of 24-hour cable news. Some experts also say that targeting Latino youth is tricky, particularly with an all-English approach because many like to have Spanish as at least part of the conversation.
But Fusion, headquartered in the Miami suburb of Doral, Fla., has an advantage, say several Hispanic media analysts: There is simply nothing else quite like it on TV. And with a major digital operation accompanying its TV programming available on several cable distributors, including Cox, Cablevision, Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse, Fusion has a shot at convincing a phone-obsessed generation to tune into its political coverage.
For Jorge Ramos — the host of “Noticiero Univision” and “Al Punto” on Univision, who will also be anchoring Fusion’s flagship primetime program — the new network offers the best opportunity to bring issues that dominate Spanish-language media into the country’s English-speaking political conversation.
If Fusion finds success, politicians and campaigns won’t be able to ignore it, Ramos said — and 2016 will be a much different race with the network in the game.
“Sometimes we’ve felt that we were invisible,” Ramos, whose Fusion program “America” will be his first English-language newscast, said of the U.S. Hispanic community. “And we are invisible, I would say, for three years, and then they rediscover us every four years, around election time, and then they forget about us again. I call it the Christopher Columbus syndrome, it happens all the time, they rediscover us every four years. And hopefully Fusion is going to stop that.”
“If we are successful, I think we can change the way politics is being covered in 2016,” he told POLITICO in a recent interview. “We’re always trying to be noticed and be visible, and if Fusion is working fine, in 2016 all the candidates would want to be on Fusion to reach the Hispanic community and the young audience.”
Fernand Amandi, managing partner at the Miami-based consulting firm Bendixen & Amandi International, which handled President Barack Obama’s 2012 national Hispanic outreach, said “it goes without saying” that Fusion will be an important booking for candidates and campaigns if the network takes off.
“If it’s successful, it’s a game changer for a very simple reason,” said Amandi. “The challenge has always been that segment of the Hispanic electorate, which is the fastest growing segment — young, U.S. born Hispanics that speak a little bit of both languages, but are far and away more comfortable in English and are English dominant — how do you target a message to them?”
There’s never been a vehicle for campaigns and candidates to specifically zero in on that slice of the voting population before, Amandi said. “And I think that’s what makes it such a provocative and potentially enticing platform which campaigns, candidates and issue advocates will potentially use to target and cultivate a very important and growing segment of the American electorate,” he added.
Viewers should expect to see a cable channel with a “more aggressive” approach to journalism than what’s currently available from other media, Ramos said.
“I get the sense that many of the things that we see on mainstream media are too bland,” Ramos said. “That when I’m listening to interviews, that sometimes it seems too cordial, too nice. And I think every once in a while we need a little more aggressive journalism.”
Take immigration reform, for instance. Ramos, who made a splash in 2012 during an interview with Obama by noting the president’s failure to get comprehensive immigration reform — “You promised that, and a promise is a promise,” Ramos told Obama. “And with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise” — said one of the major ways Fusion will stand out in the packed media market is by bringing a “young, pro-immigrant point of view” to its coverage.
The immigration debate has been fervently covered in Spanish-language media, where “nobody would know about it and the impact and relevance of our coverage would be very limited,” he said. “Because Boehner wouldn’t be listening, Reid wouldn’t be listening, the White House wouldn’t be listening. But now they will be listening because it will be in English, it’s going to be all over the place, it’s going to be on the internet immediately. So there’s going to be no excuse that they’re not listening.”
And that goes beyond immigration, Ramos said, noting viewers should expect to see in-depth stories on gun control, equality, gay marriage and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, among others, in its first weeks.
But the age group Fusion is targeting is a “tough sell” for 24-hour cable news, Enrique Becerra, the interim director of the Center for the Study of Latino Media and Markets at Texas State University-San Marcos, noted. “Young kids, regardless of whether they’re Hispanic, they’re a very tough market because what they’re trying to give them is political news,” he said.
“I really don’t know how successful they will be because the young Latino population, and most of it is in the south and southwest, I don’t know how much they’re going to like it,” Becerra said. “The Latino market, for the youth, has two main issues. One is, what generation is the Latino in the U.S.? Second generations and third generations tend to have some affinity for Spanish and they like to have some of that within the conversation. Until we see the programming, we don’t know how much of that they’re going to infuse into the programs. If it’s completely English, I don’t see why a young Latino would prefer Fusion over, say, Comedy Central.”
Still, with Fusion zeroing in on that key demographic, it would be a mistake for politicians on either side of the aisle to fail to take note of the network and what it presents as the concerns of its audience of voters, said Félix Gutiérrez, a University of Southern California professor who specializes in Hispanic media.
“If I was a politician, I’d be very carefully paying a lot of attention to both Fusion and the audience it reaches,” Gutiérrez said in an interview. “These are the people that have a stake in the United States. They’re either born or raised here, they’re educated, they’re working here. These people are the future of where this country is going, and where it’s growing. And this will be a key audience to reach for all politicians.”
Nevada-based political consultant Andres Ramirez, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee Hispanic Caucus, agreed that Fusion “will be a very integral part” of any national campaign that wants to reach the growing voting bloc of young Latinos.
“You will have some markets in which the Spanish-language media is still a better alternative for reaching folks, but certainly in markets that have large populations of young Latinos and bilingual Latinos, Fusion will be a very innovative way of reaching these voters,” he said. “In 2016 and in the long-run, when these voters are much more bilingual and Fusion has by then established itself, I think it’s going to be one of those must-do programs.”
Fusion’s political editor Jordan Fabian told POLITICO: “We want to bring fresh faces to the table. We’ll shine a spotlight on young up and comers on the political scene and the faces and voices you’ll see and read on Fusion aren’t going to be the same you’ll always see in the mainstream press.”
And, Fabian added, “one of the stories we hear about every election is that young people and Hispanic people do not pull their weight at the ballot box. The hope is our news outlet gives those voices a bigger platform in the political conversation and engages those who don’t participate in politics to get involved.”
Fusion anchor Alicia Menendez’s nightly show has been touted in press releases as “a fresh take on stories at the intersection of sex, money and politics.” According to the network, Menendez, a former HuffPost Live host and the daughter of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), will take a look at “topics – from home ownership and ‘hook up culture’ to immigration, marriage equality and student loans –that shape the daily lives of Fusion’s audience.”
“If we can connect young people to the issues that are important to them, we can inspire them to have greater involvement in the political process,” said Mark Lima, Fusion’s vice president for news. “There is really a big opportunity to inform and mobilize this generation.”
And Fusion seems to have “a smart business model for attracting political and public affairs advertising,” Republican strategist Bruce Haynes noted.
“They are targeting the intersection of two important demographics, millennials and Hispanics,” Haynes, the managing partner of Purple Strategies, wrote in an email. “In politics these are battleground audiences, votes that Democrats have been winning and Republicans need to compete for in order to win.”
To Ramos, launching a network like Fusion at this moment is about one thing — “betting on the future.”
“The way I see it, it’s this way — there are 55 million Latinos right now, but in 35 years we’re going to be 150 million. So who’s going to be talking to that 100 million new Hispanics in the next three decades?”