Fuse Networks LLC is not starting the new year off on the right foot, as FUSE (US), its multicultural and music-oriented channel, has been dropped by both Comcast Corp.. and Verizon Communications Inc.'s FiOS TV.
A spokesman for the network said Fuse had been positioned for the last 10 years on Comcast's digital basic package, following the nation’s largest cable operator launching the network’s predecessor, Si TV, in 2004.
Fuse Media President and CEO Michael Schwimmer expressed displeasure and surprise with Comcast’s move, questioning its commitment to diversity after it was freed from the consent decree it agreed to when it bought NBCUniversal Media LLC. In November, Comcast fulfilled its promise to the U.S. Department of Justice to add eight minority-owned networks to its lineup between 2011 and 2019, as Urban One Inc.'s Cleo TV and Afrotainment’s AFRO in January will join ASPiRE (US), Revolt TV (US), El Rey Network (US), Kids Central (US), Primo TV (US) and BabyFirstTV (US).
Fuse, whose ownership includes singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, said its audience composition is 75% multicultural.
"This decision is both surprising and troubling considering that Fuse met Comcast's financial demands and no other requirements were ever communicated to us," Schwimmer said in a statement. "A commitment to diversity is an enduring value, not a politically expedient card for Comcast to play until such time as consent decrees or business objectives no longer require it. Comcast’s behavior leading to its decision to drop Fuse reveals an agenda inconsistent with their public statements, giving further credence to the merit of on-going DOJ oversight."
Comcast -- noting that it carries over 160 independent networks and more than 100 networks geared toward diverse audiences, including multiple networks owned or operated by minorities -- said the decision on Fuse was part of a regular evaluation of its channel lineups. Those assessments, the company said, are made to ensure it carries a "wide variety of the content that they want to see at the best value."
The distributor said much of Fuse’s content is similar to what is available on other networks, such as BET (US), BET Her (US), TV One (US) and POP (US).
"We understand that some customers may find Fuse’s programming of interest, and we will work with them to find options that will help them continue to watch other content like this programming," Comcast said.
As to Verizon, Fuse said the telco decided to drop the channel "despite the ability to continue carriage of the network at highly-competitive rates." The programmer said Verizon's final offer contained terms it "understood were unacceptable."
Fuse said the impact of the FiOS will be a low single-digit reduction of its distribution versus 2018 levels.
"This is another instance of one of our nation’s largest telecommunications companies taking action inconsistent with its public posture regarding diversity," Fuse said in a statement. “While claiming to be committed to supporting customers from under-served communities, Verizon FiOS is removing unique content programmed to the passions and values of the large and growing multicultural millennial audience."
For their part, Verizon officials pointed to the company’s customer support website, where communication noted in part that "the cost of programming is the single biggest factor in higher TV bills."
As such, Verizon said it carefully reviews proposals from content providers to ensure that the proposed rates are in line with their viewership. "As part of that process, we have decided to drop Fuse channels from our lineup effective January 1, 2019."
Audience composition aside, Fuse executives noted the service is one of the few networks registering audience advances. Citing data from Nielsen Holdings PLC from 2015 through the end of third quarter of 2018, Fuse has registered a 50% increase among persons 18 to 34, while ad-supported cable as a whole sustained a 34% decline against the demo over the same span.