An undercover reporter with a hidden camera walks down a corridor between two buildings in Queens, N.Y., just minutes before he is approached by a gentleman on the street who asks if he was looking for “something.”
The reporter is eventually led to a building entrance where a number of women are standing around and steady streams of men are coming in and out.
The scenario is part of an investigative special on the underground sex-slave trade developed by ABC News and Univision-owned Fusion TV, one of several networks looking to provide a unique perspective on current news and topics.
Fusion, as well as independently- owned networks TheBlaze, One America News Network and Newsmax TV, looks to provide an alternative to established news outlets such as Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC and the year-and-a-half-old Al Jazeera America by offering a steady mix of live news reporting, as well as specials and documentaries that provide a deeper dive into topics of interest to a cross-section of viewers.
TRYING NEW FORMATS
“People get tired of the screaming and shouting on [traditional cable-news network] talk programs all day long,” said Newsmax TV chairman Chris Ruddy. “The public says they want to have a lot of news, but what they really want is good conversation that informs them of the news.”
Added Fusion chief programming officer Wade Beckett: “When you look at the cable-news landscape today, you see a lot of the same tired formats and methods of storytelling — we are trying to change that. We believe programming that is informative does not have to be boring.”
While the established channels continue to draw the lion’s share of viewers looking for breaking news and public-affairs content, executives from alternative news networks said they hope to reach targeted audiences with information that’s not always available on the traditional news services.
Officials with millenial-targeted Fusion said the network’s younger audience is turned off by the political banter found on other networks and seeks an alternative look at issues, as told from their perspective.
Rather than focusing on breaking-news reports, the 40 million-subscriber Fusion — which launched in 2013 as an English-language news service tailored to young Hispanic viewers — relies on longer-form reports on topical issues like the aforementioned documentary Pimp City: A Journey to the Center of the Sex Trade, as well as on daily talk/ news shows like America With Jorge Ramos that offer viewers a deep dive into a specific topic such as immigration, Beckett said.
“This generation craves authenticity and has an incredible bullshit detector for when they are being pandered to or talked down to,” he said. “Fusion is developing and delivering content that speaks their language, respects their intelligence and is centered on their interests and values.”
On the other side of the demographic leger, Newsmax TV is delivering news, lifestyles and financial content to a 50-plus audience that has become disenchanted with the content on traditional cable networks, network officials claim.
Newsmax TV launched last June. It currently offers 10 hours per day of live news and talk programming, with documentaries and lifestyle shows filling out the rest of the schedule. In less than a year, Newsmax has garnered more than 40 million subscribers through deals with such distributors as DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon Communications’s FiOS TV and the National Cable Television Cooperative.
“I think the traditional networks have become very polarizing and they’re tending to go to extremes,” said Ruddy, who admits that the company initially began as a more conservative-leaning website in 1998 that appealed mostly to Republicans. He added the TV service is offering a more balanced perspective of the news as well as offering health and finance-themed shows.
“There’s not a lot of competition in the cable sphere for the 50-plus audience in news and lifestyle, and I think the reception that we’ve gotten is a testament to that,” Ruddy added. “Within seven months, we’re in over 40 million homes and we’re getting a lot of positive feedback from operators.”
Indeed, operators are intrigued with providing a different choice of news for its consumers. “We are always open to opportunities to bring different voices onto the DirecTV platform, provided the terms are acceptable for DirecTV and our customers,” Dan York, executive vice president of programming and chief content officer, said.
MORE TIME FOR NEWS
The traditional cable news networks’ heavy reliance on talk and debate programming, as well as their recent focus on reality shows, has left less on-air time to devote to straight news reporting, executives added. Herring Networks-owned One America News Network wants to fill that “news void” by offering a whopping 21 hours of live coverage each day, with an additional two live hours of mostly right-leaning talk show content for consumers to view, network president Charles Herring said.
“People want a credible source for news and information,” said Herring in defining the brand of One America, which launched in 2013.
The network’s commitment to delivering live content has aided in its talks with distributors who are looking for content that won’t be time-shifted, Herring added. The network is currently in front of more than 12 million viewers through deals with Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse TV and CenturyLink.
“We have 21 hours of live broadcast because the story can change from the morning to the evening, and live news is critical to MVPDs who want to maintain viability of their linear video service,” said Herring.
Verizon executive director of content strategy and acquisition Ben Grad, executive director of content strategy and asaid broadening the scope of its news-network offerings gives FiOS customers a chance to choose the perspective from which they receive their news. “Verizon’s news and information content offering is built on the philosophy that welcomes many points of view, from the so-called traditional news channels to alternative sources,” he said.
Networks such as TheBlaze, founded by conservative radio and TV talk-show host Glenn Beck, appeal to audiences of specific political affiliations by offering commentary and news from a point of view that isn’t fully explored on other cable networks.
“TheBlaze is a network designed to provide a mix of high-quality news, information and entertainment programming to a large but underserved audience and is inspired by Glenn Beck’s principles and values,” president of business development Lynne Costantini said.
The network would not disclose its subscriber numbers, but TheBlaze has carriage deals with Cablevision Systems, Suddenlink Communications, Cable One and RCN. It has also lured such high-profile advertisers as Overstock. com and Lifelock with its conservative- themed programming. TheBlaze offers live commercials broadcast directly from the studio in addition to traditional commercial spots, Costantini said.
“Our programming is providing an excellent response for many of our existing sponsors seeking cross-platform, multimedia opportunities,” she said. “Advertisers are accessing TV audiences tuning in to an expanding number of programs, taking advantage of both live, in-program commercials as well as sponsorships of different hosted programs.”
Established Web brands like TheBlaze and Newsmax said they can tap a built-in audience on various platforms to market and promote their respective cable services.
Ruddy said Newsmax will look to interact more with viewers and readers in the near future through Skype and call-in features. “The news from the other networks is typically one-way, with them telling the public about stuff, whereas at Newsmax we’re going to do both through digital means in an effort to allow the public a forum that they don’t feel they have in Washington, New York and Hollywood,” he said.
Fusion will also look to engage its millennial audience on a number of platforms, Beckett said, including apps on Apple TV and other connected devices providing short-form programming and live, linear content via authentication.
“In order to be successful, especially with the amount of disruption occurring throughout the media landscape, we have to think beyond the conventional ways of doing things,” Beckett said.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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