The independent entertainment company Fuse Media has already moved around some of its spring plans in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Heading into early upfront conversations, the company, which targets young Latinx and multicultural viewers, is expecting to be even more fluid as it faces an uncertain and challenging moment for advertisers and broadcasters alike.
“There’s a heightened sensitivity across the board,” said ad sales chief Fernando Romero, who has headed up Fuse Media’s ad sales since October. “We’re already having upfront meetings in a virtual setting, and we’re having these open discussions with our partners to emphasize being sensitive to each others’ needs and figuring out how to really be a partner and what we can do together, whether it’s now, next quarter or six months from now.”
In March, Fuse Media accelerated the release of Be Change, a pro-social initiative that offers up educational and informational messages to Fuse viewers. The initiative was initially planned around addressing climate change and timed to roll out around Earth Day.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, however, the company moved up and recalibrated Be Change to first remind viewers about the merits of social distancing and other protective measures. Going forward, Be Change will tackle themes like mental health and challenges related to self-isolation.
Meanwhile, Fuse’s upfront timetable has slowed. “[Agencies,] for the most part, are all waiting on direction from their clients, and their clients are really taking stock as to where their businesses are,” Romero said of early upfront conversations. “Holistically, we’ve heard there is going to be some weeks of pause. They’re triaging their businesses right now, shifting their businesses right now. No Olympics, no sports. So they’re asking, ‘What original programs are still coming to life?’”
Fuse’s original programming lineup this season leans into education, escapism and, above all else, entertainment. The company is armed with five freshmen series including Genius X Fuse, a show centered on the music-centric media company Genius that premiered in mid-March, and Ming’s Dynasty, a single-camera sitcom centered on two aspiring rappers who put their dreams on hold to help run a family restaurant that will premiere in the U.S. on May 3.
Some of Fuse Media’s upcoming series, including the ones noted above, have already been produced, translating to quick turnaround opportunities for advertisers, Romero said. But as with many other broadcasters and cable companies, there is uncertainty around other shows’ exact releases, considering a near-total production standstill.
“Some of those shows that were slated to develop in summertime, we haven’t heard of a full production pushback, but we know there are some that were being delivered for a June and July timeframe that we are keeping an eye on,” Romero explained. “We are also being sensitive to the fact that if we push everything to the end of the year, to the back half of the year, there’s going to be so much going on. We want to make sure we give all these shows a real equal opportunity to shine in their time frames without their being too much clutter.”
Other shows in the works include the streetwear unboxing show Bust It Open and the celebrity- and chef-led cooking show Struggle Gourmet, both freshman series developed as part of an in-house content development program, Fuse Content Studio. The studio develops programming ideas that debut on digital platforms like YouTube before moving over to linear if and when they find traction, which Romero said allows Fuse to get a resonant show on air in as quick as three months’ time.
Those shows offer some brand opportunities: Bust It Open will incorporate product launches from the e-commerce and content company Ntwrk, the companies previously announced.
The network has renewed Fuse Content Studio’s first successful show, Made From Scratch, a weekly docuseries that features music celebrities making their favorite childhood dishes. In addition to Made from Scratch, Fuse has five other returning series: the comedic subculture series That White People Shit; the adult animated series Sugar and Toys; and 130 more episodes of Big Boy’s Neighborhood, a recording of the daily iHeartMedia radio show of the same name that airs the day after the show’s nightly broadcasts. Sugar and Toys remains in production.
Romero’s expectation is that upfront transactions will occur later in the year than usual.
“What we’ve heard from most folks is this is going to be a second half-shifted conversation,” Romero said. “Where most of the activity was happening right by Memorial Day, we’ve had some clients say it’s now going to be the first or second week of June, with some real business transactions happening closer to Fourth of July. We had one agency tell us that they’re looking at putting Q4 scatter into play, and then looking at shifting potentially towards a calendar upfront.”
Despite the uncertainty, Romero is optimistic that conversations with advertisers will be fruitful, even if the timeline is pushed back. “We understand that messaging and services still need to be promoted, and there’s a long-tail effect of what’s happening,” he said. “We are emphasizing flexibility. We want to work with you when the time is right, whenever we are all comfortable moving forward in this new environment.”