Public, Private Money Meld at Youth-, Hispanic-Oriented Fusion TV

Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 02:40 PM

By Kenric Ward, Watchdog.org

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Call it Florida Gov. Rick Scott's version of "Tango & Cash."

The Republican made a splash in Miami last year when he pledged $5 million in state money to help launch the new youth-oriented Fusion network.

A product of ABC-Univision, Fusion targets millennial Hispanics with what it calls a mix of "Pop Culture Satire." Blending Latino talent in an English format, the new cable offering recently trumpeted these headlines online:

  • We went naked to a big festival for young adult nudists. It was awesome.
  • Stephen Colbert and why we need to keep talking about diversity on TV.
  • Eva Mendes on her new fashion line.
Lots of drug talk, too, including a standing feature titled "Cannabusiness."

ABC and Univision aren't hurting for cash. The Spanish-language Univision has significantly more viewers than its closest rival, NBC's Telemundo.

But when ABC-Univision sought help for Fusion last summer, Scott opened the public purse.

"Providing incentives to business is a very big part of Gov. Scott's administration," said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg.

"Some work, some don't. He's not all that fussy about handing out money" to business ventures, Edmonds told Watchdog.org.

Jessica Sims, press secretary for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said state taxpayers are protected by requirements built into the High Impact Performance Incentive program.

"The company's first required performance report [due next month] must show a capital investment of at least $110 million, the retention of 110 jobs, and the creation of 180 new jobs," Sims said. "If performance is verified, the first payment of $2.5 million will be paid."

"The second and final performance report for the period ending December 2016 requires the company to demonstrate an additional $164 million capital investment and an additional 65 new jobs," she added. That would release another $2.5 million.

"No payments are made until performance is verified," Sims stressed.

Rosemary Mercedes, vice president for corporate and digital communications at Univision, declined to answer Watchdog's questions about the new 150,000-square-foot news facility or job fulfillment.

In economic-development deals elsewhere, companies have hired part-timers to cut personnel costs and rented out surplus office space to generate income. Sims said businesses may use "full-time equivalent calculations for job creation, such as two half-time workers equaling one full-time position."

"More information will be made public in due course," Mercedes wrote in an email Wednesday.

She also declined to discuss Miami-Dade County incentives up to $5 million planned to supplement the state's contribution.

Fusion's news content, anchored by "America with Jorge Ramos," makes the Florida incentives politically problematic.

"Personally, I don't think it's a line the media should cross," Edmonds said of news operations accepting taxpayer funding.

Jill Geisler, another Poynter analyst, said, "Whenever government subsidizes journalism, editorial independence has to be baked in."

Univision, which will share the new complex with Fusion in Miami, unabashedly promotes Obamacare and is generally friendly toward Democratic politicians. The Spanish-language network also takes a pro-immigration position.

Fusion appears more snarky than serious.

Scott, who is running for re-election this fall, may figure that helping English-speaking Hispanic hipsters play to Florida's urban markets will broaden his base.

For Geisler, the ultimate question will be: "What are the expectations for the people who cover the government entities" that subsidize their salaries?

For Mercedes, the answer remains up in the air. "I do not have further details I can provide at this time," she said Wednesday.


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