Fuse hopes to capture the music audience that MTV left behind.
Fuse is bringing music back to TV. Since it left parent company Rainbow Media and transferred to Madison Square Garden Inc. in 2008, the channel has attempted to keep the songs pumping in an era where competing networks, including MTV and VH1, have almost entirely turned away from music programming and focused more on reality and scripted shows.
On Sept. 10, the New York-based network launches "Fuse News," a live, half-hour program hosted by Ashanti, Alexa Chung, Elaine Moran and Jack Osbourne, the lattermost reporting from a West Coast location. The show will air five days a week at 5 p.m. and focus on the top music news of the day as well as breaking stories, live interviews and in-studio performances. As part of the initiative, Fuse built a stunning new studio on the ground floor of its midtown Manhattan office featuring a news desk for journalists, a movable DJ and live performance area, an anchor space where hosts will interact with viewers by using social networks on iPads and an adjacent area for interviews.
Fuse took an unconventional approach in strategizing "Fuse Live." While some networks debut their shows and play catch-up with the online component, Fuse set out to build a presence in the digital realm first, hiring 90 new employees and upping its news team of 25 staffers and freelancers. The company soft-launched Fuse.tv in January and has since built a strong presence on the Web, producing five news stories per day on Fuse.tv's YouTube partner channel that now accrues more than 1 million views per week.
"The music audience lives online," MSG Media president Mike Bair says. "We're trying to build and recruit a large audience there, get them familiar with the brand and then pull them to the linear channel." Senior VP of programming and operations Brad Schwartz adds, "When you look at the millions of people over the past 12 months that have connected to Fuse because of text [stories] or videos or tweets, by the time we launch the show, we've created this fertile environment to be a music information source."
"Fuse News" speaks to a larger initiative for the network to become the go-to source for music news. The company added a 24-hour ticker to the bottom of its screen to keep audiences constantly informed and has partnered with services like Spotify for a Fuse news app, ranked as the 25th top app on the streaming service. It also built 14 edit suites in its news department to handle the production of new content.
The undertaking has been financially substantial, with the studio alone estimated to cost around $10 million. MSG Inc. recently reported a staggering quarterly profit in August, jumping 42% in revenue with a net income of $28.5 million, up from $8.5 million the year prior. With overall revenue at $332.9 million, the company, which is split among MSG Sports, MSG Entertainment and MSG Media, allocated funds from the groups for the plan, which has been in motion since last year.
"Fuse News" executive producer Zev Shalev echoes the company's intention to fill the void in music-based programming and cater to the 18-34 demographic. "We've done a lot of research into this particular audience group, and they really are demanding this content," says Shalev, former producer of CBS' "The Early Show" and creator of "The Nate Berkus Show." "There's no one place on television where they can congregate and have that conversation and get that information. So we know from them that they want this."
Ashanti, who also serves as an executive producer on the show and sings its theme song, says hosting is a way to expand her brand and connect with audiences on a regular basis. The singer wanted to be involved with something that brought music back to TV and simultaneously promote her career.
"There's a katrillion judging shows and talent shows, and it's just really dope to be a part of something fresh and new and what no one else is doing," says Ashanti, who plans to release new album "Braveheart" in the late fourth quarter on her Written Entertainment imprint. "It takes courage and it's definitely rolling the dice, but to be in bed with a company like MSG makes so much sense."
With six additional shows scheduled to roll out during the next 45 weeks, Fuse is confident its investment will pay off.
"We spent millions of dollars on research the year prior to this to understand what content was going to make sense for this particular audience," Bair says. "We wanted to mitigate the risk, and that's what's given us some confidence going forward."