Univision, new Fusion channel open headquarters in Doral

08/28/2013 7:29 PM

08/28/2013 8:28 PM

Univision dominates Spanish-language broadcasting, more than doubling the audience of its largest rival, Telemundo. But starting this fall, Univision will tackle an audience that has always been foreign to the Doral-based network: people who watch television in English.

With ABC as a partner, Univision is betting big on carving out a niche in English-language television with Fusion, a cable network billed as targeting young Hispanics.

Gov. Rick Scott traveled to Doral on Wednesday for a ribbon-cutting of the new, 150,000-square-foot news headquarters for both Univision and Fusion. The shared space will allow star journalist Jorge Ramos to deliver his 6:30 p.m. Univision newscast in Spanish, then walk about 50 steps to anchor an hour-long Fusion newscast in English.

“This building will in many ways be a microcosm of the new American reality,” Cesar Conde, president of Univision Networks, told the crowd at a reception in the 15,000-square-foot newsroom.

Aside from the challenge of filling ad time on a network with virtually no brand recognition, Fusion has set its sights on one of the most elusive and pursued niches in media: millenials, loosely defined as people between the ages of 18 and 34. With a cadre of young Web producers, journalists, and broadcasters, Fusion thinks its Latin sensibilities and an irreverent approach to news programming will allow it to quickly become a force in television.

While Univision’s news staff outnumbers Fusion’s 200-person crew by about two to one, the upstart English-language venture is getting significant attention nationally for a bold grab at the Hispanic market. Fusion aims to be in 20 million homes by its debut on Oct. 28.

The launch is partly a hedge against the aging of Univision’s primetime audience of nearly 4 million Spanish-speaking residents, as their children and grandchildren increasingly turn to English-language programming.

Fusion tapped Mexican-born Leon Krauze, anchor of the network’s Los Angeles affiliate, to host a pop-culture show in English and Alicia Menendez to translate her popular shows on Sirius and HuffPost Live into a look at “at the intersection of sex, money and politics.”

Other programming choices hint at Fusion’s parallel track: create a cable network that’s generally appealing to young people, regardless of their ethnic background.

“We started out thinking [the audience] was going to be second- and third-generation Hispanics,” said Susan Mercandetti, vice president of development and partnerships at ABC News. But increasingly, the broad audience category of “millenials” came into focus, she said.

Fusion caused a stir when it hired David Javerbaum, former executive producer and head writer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, to create a parody show for Fusion in Los Angeles and generally inject more humor into the network’s news content. He doesn’t speak Spanish. Neither does the cable network’s top programming executive in Doral, former Simpsons writer Billy Kimball.

A nightly sports show will feature the Harvard Sailing Team, an Anglo comedy troupe. One of the network’s high-profile hires, radio host Derrick Ashong, also isn’t Hispanic.

“When they were interviewing me, I asked them: Isn’t this supposed to be a Hispanic network?” Ashong said during Wednesday’s reception. “Actually, they said, ‘We see an opportunity here ... What we’re looking at is doing something for this generation. But it has a Latin flavor to it.’ ”

The new facility will eventually employ about 600 people as Fusion continues to expand, said acting CEO Beau Ferrari, a Univision executive. The job growth will be crucial for Univision to collect the $10.5 million in subsidies pledged by Miami-Dade County and Florida for the new venture, with the state contributing $7 million to the package.

As part of the incentive package, Univision pledged to spend $247 million on the new complex over many years. Univision is moving its news division out of its existing Doral studio, which will remain home to the network’s entertainment arm. telenovelas Despierta America

Univision and ABC are splitting the operating costs of the network, executives said. While owned jointly, ABC is responsible for selling the network to cable outlets across the country and finding advertisers, while Univision “will have creative control,” said Univision CEO Randy Falco.

Convincing Univision’s leadership to pursue English-speaking viewers wasn’t easy at first, said Isaac Lee, president of news for Univision. “There was this unwritten law in Univision that we don’t speak English,” Lee said. But “the second generation speaks English. And we’re not doing anything about it.”

A recent Pew Center study found half of Hispanic Latino adults get their news in both Spanish and English, while the number relying solely on Spanish-language news sources dropped from 22 percent in 2006 to 18 percent in 2012.

Recent Nielsen ratings show Univision drawing an average prime-time audience of 3.6 million, large enough for it to be the No. 1 network in any language during the summer re-run season. Telemundo, Univision’s cross-town rival, has a much smaller audience, about 1.4 million people. But with the fastest-growing newscast in any language, Telemundo executives see an opportunity to take market share from Univision.

Alina Falcon, executive vice president of news, said Telemundo is boosting staff at its main Hialeah news operation, as well as establishing bureaus in Chicago and Houston. Falcon said Telemundo, an NBC subsidiary, sees too much growth potential to divert resources to English programming.

“We’re really just focused on our Spanish-language network,” she said. “We’re really busy with that.”

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