How Fusion aims to be a digital-first TV network

by Maite Fernandez
Oct 30, 2018 in Digital Journalism

Updated: 10/7/2014 5:08 pm (EST)

Tim Pool became known in journalism for being the guy who used drones and wearables to live-stream breaking news events, from the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011 to demonstrations in the Middle East and the most recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

At 28, Pool is leaving his job as a producer for Vice Media to become the Director of Media Innovation at Fusion, a news and entertainment cable network focused on millennials that was launched in October last year as a joint venture of Univision and ABC News.

As part of his new job, Pool will build a breaking news unit that will use technology in innovative ways. He will continue with his live coverage, but he’ll also work closely with the technology team to develop tools in-house that will help Fusion cover news in the future, said Daniel Eilemberg, Fusion’s chief digital officer.

“What Tim does is a very unique thing,” said Eilemberg. He acknowledged that there might be challenges in integrating Pool’s coverage into traditional TV news coverage. “A lot of it is a digital-first approach to the news, but that will be one of the fun and interesting challenges for us, working on integrating all of that into our news coverage on TV. I would be lying if I told you I have all the answers now.”

A far cry from an afterthought, the network is betting heavily on its digital arm. Commanded by Eilemberg, it has enrolled among its ranks other big names like Reuters’ Felix Salmon, Jezebel’s Anna Holmes, and former YouTube and Upworthy executive Hong QuFusion’s latest get also left many media Twitterati speechless: Alexis Madrigal, deputy editor at The, will be joining the network as Silicon Valley bureau chief.

“As I see it, digital is, on the one hand, a natural and an important place for us to be. We’re talking to a millennial audience; this is a generation that is mainly spending time on their mobile devices, on digital, on social media, so we have to create content that is native to those platforms,” Eilemberg said.

Eilemberg’s idea is to create engaging content around their programming, content that can be multi-platform, which means doing more than just taking TV shows and putting the clips online.

“It means to create content that is native to digital that can live on YouTube and be shared on social media to try to drive traffic,  audience and engagement to the TV screen,” he said.

One example of that was the coverage of the World Cup.

To cover the most shared event on social media in recent history, Fusion used live-blogging and the “honeycomb,” a social aggregator built on Fusion’s soccer site that allowed them to surface social media content based on location and influence.

During the World Cup, two to three editors at a time were mining and tracking all 12 stadiums where the tournament took place based on certain key elements like hashtags and the influence of people in the stadium.

“So as soon as anyone that has a large social footprint shared stuff on social media, we were able to surface that, pick it up and add context to what’s happening there and put it into our social aggregator,” he said.

For Eilemberg this was the closest thing to being there. Through the aggregation of all these social media updates, “you experience Brazil through the eyes of thousands of people who were there on the ground sharing the experience.”

Working on the honeycomb during the World Cup proved to be a lot of fun, but Fusion’s chief digital officer sees potential to apply this technology to cover other, more serious stories, like conflict zones or protests. “We get the World Cup to play with this before we implement it to more serious news,” he said.

This social media approach to covering the World Cup had a lot to do with audience engagement, a metric Fusion is very much focused on right now.

“We are trying to grow our social footprint and the engagement we have with the audience. We have great shows, great talent, and one of the things we need to get better at is figuring out a stronger two-way dialogue with our audience,” he said.

Learning from Animal Político

When it comes to audience engagement, Eilemberg draws lessons from his experience with Animal Político, a media company born on social media that covers politics and current events in Mexico. Co-founded by Eilemberg, it started in 2010 as the Twitter account of Pájaro Político ("Political Bird"), a fictional character. “It was operated exclusively on Twitter before even launching a website,” he said.

The irreverent bird struck a chord with the audience, especially a younger one. “It was like a character. It had a voice, it had a personality, it had a way of addressing issues ... and replying to people. That was a very different conversation and a very different experience than what audiences had with traditional media, and people responded to that,” he said.

When they launched the website, Animal Político, a year later, it came with a following and a very engaged audience. The website reaches 4 million unique users monthly, and Eilemberg said in a previous interview that he expects it will reach profitability this year.

Its success came from understanding that the media consumption habits of the new generation are radically different.

“The media-consuming habits of a younger generation that’s grown up on digital … who have learned to communicate natively through these things, who are informed through their social media feeds or through their friends … it’s just a very different type of media consumption,” he said.

“Some media brands have done a really exceptional job adapting to it. Other media companies haven’t done such a great job at that changing landscape, and speak to them in a very different way.”

Image: CC-Licensed, thanks to Alexander Rentsch on Flickr.

Maite Fernández is ICFJ's Communications Director. She is bilingual in English and Spanish and has an M.J. in multimedia journalism from the University of Maryland.