Fuse’s Future Lights Up

Nov 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Following months of speculation about a change in ownership, Rainbow Media-controlled music video channel Fuse has made a handful of new distribution and programming deals designed to position it as a more formidable player in the evolving television marketplace.

Fuse is expected to announce today a cellphone content deal with MobiTV and a distribution agreement with Comcast. The network also has greenlighted eight new series that are heavy on interactive elements.

MobiTV feeds exclusive video channels to cellular providers and has put Fuse into its Sprint package, while a new carriage deal with Comcast will expand Fuse’s subscriber base to 44 million. The deals will boost Fuse homes by 7 million and add the channel to a growing list of networks with mobile phone distribution ports.

The mobile deal is the first of its kind for a Rainbow Media property. Though the company eventually plans to pursue new media for its other network properties, Fuse’s youthful viewership made the channel an obvious choice for a mobile video service.

“Our moves to new technologies are based on a point of view we’ve had for a long time, that putting the viewer in control was one of the key goals of the network,” said Josh Sapan, president and CEO of Rainbow Media. “As we move forward with Mobi, Fuse [expands] off the TV and onto other platforms. We are delighted we can be among the pioneering new media content providers.”

Fuse has been a conspicuous entity within the Rainbow Media Group, which also includes AMC, IFC and WE: Women’s Entertainment. A year ago Rainbow parent Cablevision planned to move Fuse out of Rainbow as part of a strategy to split the company’s assets, and even established a separate affiliate sales group for the channel.

Then in May, Fuse was moved back under the Rainbow banner, only to become the subject of industry speculation that Cablevision would sell the network suite as a whole or Fuse by itself. Sale rumors coincided with a recently aborted plan to take the entire Rainbow unit public.

Mr. Sapan said the back-and-forth Fuse speculation has not affected Fuse’s operations. However, he would not characterize the trio of new announcements as evidence of any newfound corporate dedication to the property.

“Our dedication has been consistent throughout,” he said. “The fact that there are all these announcements now simply represents the consummation of prolonged and dedicated work activity on several fronts. This happens with continued commitment.”

The MobiTV deal puts Fuse on Sprint’s Power Vision high-speed data platform, which is available in about 75 markets.

Like traditional cable providers, Sprint’s platform has several tiers. Fuse will be on the basic level with NFL Network and Fox Sports. The premium level includes ESPN, Discovery Channel and Fox News. The Fox Cable Networks channel Fuel will be added soon, a Fox spokesperson confirmed.

To avoid upsetting traditional distribution agreements, Fuse will not provide music videos but rather will deliver original content such as music news and interviews. The content will contain three minutes of advertising per hour (from both Fuse and Sprint advertisers).

Fuse’s affiliate sales group, which continues to operate independently from the other Rainbow channels, negotiated the deal.

“It’s really an extension of Fuse’s mantra, to be where our viewers are,” said Lisa Choi Owens, Fuse’s VP of business development. “This is just a natural extension of that interactivity.”