Fuse Originals Spark Growth With Millennial Viewers

Fuse TV is positioning itself to appeal to an influential and growing audience of multicultural, millennial viewers through original, music-themed programming and thought-provoking documentaries, president and CEO Michael Schwimmer said.

The 65 million-subscriber network is coming off a strong 2017, in which Fuse grew its core audience of adults 18-34 by 33% vs. 2016, while views for its on-demand content increased by 49% year-over-year.

Schwimmer spoke with Multichannel News about Fuse’s brand identity, as well as the challenges of an independent network in a crowded marketplace and the importance of reaching out to millennial viewers. Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation.

MCN: How would you define the Fuse brand?

Michael Schwimmer: Our vision here is to reflect the world today, as well as the world we want to create tomorrow. So we do that through music and culture for a multicultural audience, and getting the multicultural audience on-screen in a way that’s positive and uplifting.

MCN: You mentioned music, but not a lot of networks are doing music programming today. How do you see music fitting into your strategy to draw in multicultural audiences?

MS: Music, as everyone has known for a long time, is an extremely important part of youth culture. So we’re not doing music performances, but what we are doing is we’re bringing people’s favorite music artists closer to them through docu-follows, through reality series, through digital shorts — everything from interviews to comedy. So we bring music and music artists to people through those genres.

MCN: Beyond music, what type of content are you looking to offer the multicultural audience?

MS: We have stuff that’s on the lighter side, which is entertainment like the Hollywood Puppet Show, which is really comedy, with Wilmer Valderrama and all of his celebrity guests. Then we have stuff that’s more serious like [documentary special] Indivisible, which just won a Peabody Award.

MCN: As an independent network, is it harder to break through the clutter of the industry without the backing of a huge media conglomerate?

MS: It is, but we’re also fighting in a space where they’re not playing — no one else is doing what we’re doing. The average age of the cable viewer is 50-plus, so there’s a lot of very large companies out there focused — at least in this legacy pay TV industry — on a much-older audience. But the fact of the matter is there’s an enormous amount of viewership that goes on among 18-to-34-year-olds — especially within the multicultural community — on cable. So we’re filling a need and niche that no one else does. We’re not a big media conglomerate but we can get noticed and make our brand bigger, and the tools are out there to do it.

MCN: How important is reaching a multicultural audience in today’s landscape?

MS: I think it’s super-important, and it’s not just because of the rhetoric of our current president and administration. I think it’s always been important — I’ve been involved in what I’ll call multicultural programming for many, many years now, and I think it’s an underserved audience and continues to be an underserved audience. About 4% of talent in front of a camera is Hispanic, while it’s 18% or even 25% of the country, so there’s a huge under-representation of people who want to see themselves reflected on-screen — they want their stories, they want to see their own faces, and they deserve to have that, and they should have it.

R. Thomas Umstead

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.