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MTV Challenger Fuse Ready for Its Close-Up

Feb 2, 2004  •  Post A Comment

To hear Marc Juris tell it, programming the Fuse music network was easy. He simply set up a Web site, solicited viewers’ opinions, then aired the videos his audience wanted to see. No committee poring over submissions, no strategizing playlists, just being, as he puts it, “an entertainment enabler.”
“We are curators, not dictators,” said Mr. Juris, president of Fuse. “I like to think Fuse is the closest expression of the Internet on TV. It’s democracy of the Internet which decides our programming. It’s like a collective entertainment voice and we’re harnessing that energy. You can’t stop it, so you might as well go with it.”
This sort of Zen approach could be expected from a network president who is known for Rollerblading to work, but it is less aligned with Mr. Juris’ more competitive side-a side known for firing headline-making shots at the Viacom-owned hegemony of music channels (MTV, VH1 and their respective spinoffs). Examples include running the VH1 flagship program parody “Behind the Music That Sucks” and launching advertising campaigns attacking MTV’s lack of commitment to music videos.
“This is an audience that demands fresh, different, outrageous thinking without worrying about alienating everybody else,” Mr. Juris said.
Turning a Page
Growing up in the Bronx, Mr. Juris discovered rock ‘n’ roll in his teens, listening to the Doors, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane on AM radio. His true love, however, was television. “I never had a band. I didn’t want to be a rock star,” he said. “Being Dick Clark would have been good.”
With Dick Clark’s job already taken, Mr. Juris chose the conservative route of studying business at Syracuse University. After graduation, he landed a job as a business consultant, but was miserable. So at age 22 he quit to become a CBS page.
“I became the happiest, hardest-working guy at CBS,” he said. “I was like a rescued dog.”
Mr. Juris worked his way through various news production jobs at CBS, jumped into advertising, then moved to syndication at Select Media. He joined Rainbow Media eight years ago to run a regional network called Extra Help. His first top-shelf network job was working at AMC, where he was senior VP of original programming. He was later promoted to executive VP and general manager.
In 2002, Mr. Juris was tapped to run a struggling music video network called MuchMusic. He says his mandate was to “make it cool.”
That was easier said than done. At the time, MuchMusic wasn’t considered cool, and wasn’t considered uncool, either. It just wasn’t considered at all. That anonymity changed last year when MuchMusic rebranded as Fuse.
The network gained considerable press by putting up billboards across from MTV headquarters in New York that took the empire to task for not playing enough music videos. MTV rapidly launched its first national advertising campaign for its all-music-video spinoff MTV2. The network has repeatedly denied the MTV2 push was prompted by Fuse, but most observers see a connection.
Since then, the networks have occasionally feuded, with Rolling Stone reporting that MTV started enforcing appearance exclusivity commitments with bands for the first time in its history. It was also reported that the Viacom network unsuccessfully tried to poach one of Fuse’s DJs. Nowadays, Fuse plays down the MTV war. But its youth-oriented advertising on Web sites such as The Onion continue to remind readers that Fuse is all about “more music videos, less crappy TV.”
4Play Coming Soon
Programming analyst Jack Myers recently conducted a national study that tracked network brand affinity among teens. The study found that teens 15 to 18 who had watched Fuse in the past 30 days ranked it their most frequently watched channel.
“Basically, although the percentage of total viewers was small compared to MTV and leading networks, the loyalty that Fuse audiences had toward the network-especially among 15- to 18-year-olds-was extremely strong,” Mr. Myers said. “[Fuse has] certainly made an impact in defining its unique niche since it shifted from MuchMusic.”
In terms of content, Fuse (which has 35 million subscribers) and MTV2 (about 50 million) play many of the same videos, though MTV2 tends toward hip-hop and Fuse inclines toward rock. Fuse’s original programming is heavily music video-oriented, with several shows simply serving as repackaging for video content.
One example is a soon-to-be-announced program called “4Play,” in which the screen is divided into four quadrants. One quadrant contains a music video while the other three contain footage from extreme sports edited to the music.
“It’s extreme multitasking,” Mr. Juris said. “It’s a show with 400 percent more television.”
Unlike MTV, Fuse is exploring high-definition programming avenues. Fuse provides the programming for Rave, an HD music video channel for the Voom package. Mr. Juris said the network is also open to creating HD content blocks for affiliates.
“We really try to be creatively daring and different,” Mr. Juris said. “Not just to pretend we’re cool-if our affiliates and advertisers become uncomfortable, then we know we’re doing it right.”