We feel like MTV felt twenty years ago,” says Marc Juris, the president of Fuse, a small but flourishing cable channel that’s staking its future on a simple idea: Music television should play music videos. So far, the results are encouraging: Fuse more than doubled its reach to 31 million households in the last twelve months, though that’s a long way from the 86 million homes MTV reaches or the 49 million households of MTV’s music-video spin-off MTV2.
Fuse, which debuted in 1994 as a tiny U.S. offshoot of the Canadian music station MuchMusic, hired TV vet Juris away from American Movie Classics last year to overhaul the network. His plan: aggressively target twelve- to thirty-four-year-olds with interactive video shows, including the high-concept IMX, through which viewers can monitor their online trades of “shares” of bands on a stock ticker while watching videos.
Fuse has been emphasizing metal, hip-hop, punk and emo. “The good thing about the channel is that it is seriously concentrating on rock music,” says Linda Ferrando, senior vice president of Atlantic Records. Ferrando credits Fuse’s support of Taproot for the metal band’s near-gold sales. Pete Loeffler, lead singer of alt-metal band Chevelle, agrees. “[Fuse] really supports rock music,” he says, “our fans always say they saw us on there.”
Fuse’s competition doesn’t seem worried. “That ‘Where are the music videos on MTV?’ thing,” says David Cohn, general manager of MTV2. “I’m not sure anybody’s that fussed about it except Fuse. And you notice Fuse never mentions MTV2.” Still, the channel recently made a failed attempt to lure Fuse’s breakout-star VJ, Juliya, for Headbangers Ball.
Fuse programming essentially centers around music videos, a strategy that MTV all but abandoned after learning it was difficult to get ratings with music clips. To date, ratings for Fuse have been decent – though not great enough to kill the infomercials that still populate the channel.
Juris remains optimistic, citing the success of iTunes as his inspiration. “I believe that we’ve seen the beginning of a revolution in how music is distributed and disseminated to people,” he says. “We want to be a part of that.”