Rosario Dawson and Wilmer Valderrama join forces to spotlight the upcoming U.S. Senate races and their national impact for Latino and multicultural communities. The two appear, along with Stacey Abrams and other activists, in Fuse Town Hall: The Georgia Run-off Election, which airs on cable network Fuse this Monday, January 4th at 8 PM ET.
The television special is a partnership between Fuse Media, which targets Latino and multicultural millennial and Gen Z audiences, and the Voto Latino Foundation. Dawson and Valderrama will participate in a panel discussion moderated by the grassroots voting organization’s CEO, María Teresa Kumar.
Fuse Media made headlines recently when its Latino-led management group acquired a majority, controlling stake in the cross-platform entertainment brand, which includes Fuse, FM (Fuse Music), as well as video-on-demand and digital properties. The transaction makes Fuse Media among the few remaining Hispanic-owned cable media properties.
The company has also been in the news for a carriage dispute with AT&T
In this interview, CEO Miguel (Mike) Roggero and content distribution head Judi Lopez talk about the upcoming voting special, their management buyout and the FCC complaint against AT&T.
The two of you, along with ad sales lead Fernando Romero and others, recently took a controlling stake in Fuse Media. Why is it important that the company is a minority-owned media property?
Mike Roggero: With this historic acquisition, we have taken ownership of our destiny. And by being not only minority-owned, but Latino-owned, controlled and managed, Fuse has the benefit of being aligned across the board with the consumers we have been targeting for more than 16 years.
This couldn’t be more important, particularly at a time when the country is being influenced more than ever by the Latino and multicultural population who make up our audience, and is an increasingly powerful force culturally, economically and – as we are seeing during the elections and key moves being made during the White House transition – politically.
There are very few Hispanic-owned and managed television networks. What are the implications for viewers?
Judi Lopez: Unfortunately, with the loss of [filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s] El Rey, which is shutting down at the end of 2020, we are the only Latino-owned cable network that’s serving this audience in English. We make up nearly 19% of the U.S. population, and studies have shown that Latino representation in all of media is a stunningly low 5%.
The good news is that, as an independent company, we have the flexibility to move quickly to serve our audience, and to partner with organizations and companies that are like-minded, in order to bring them content that is not only entertaining but also informative and impactful. And being Latino-led, we bring to the table the unique ability to tap into the experiences and passions that are most important to us, to our families and to our communities.
There is certainly something powerful about being able to sit down with my teenage son and watch a Fuse Town Hall about an upcoming election that directly impacts our community, or my young daughter to watch an episode of Made From Scratch, where a celebrity shares stories about their life and culture while cooking a meal with her abuela [grandmother].
Fuse recently lodged a complaint with the FCC accusing AT&T of using its power to treat the company unfairly. What’s your side of the issue?
Mike Roggero: The complaint is actually pretty straightforward. For months, we have been trying to engage AT&T to renew carriage of our Fuse and FM networks on DIRECTV and their other services, and for months, we were basically ignored aside from an occasional placeholder email. We continued to give them the benefit of the doubt, but they did not even respond in substance to our written offer, and we alerted them that we would be filing the complaint with the FCC. This finally elicited a response, albeit not a serious one.
Notably, AT&T dropped every other English-language network serving Latinos earlier this year. Based on their actions – including treating us unequally and unfairly when compared with the networks they own as a result of the Time Warner acquisition – we had no choice but to bring this to the FCC. There are regulations in place to protect independent companies like ours from discriminatory treatment by vertically-integrated giants, and we believe we have a very strong case.
The Communications Workers of America (CWA), the nation’s largest labor union in the space representing some 700,000 workers, announced its support of the complaint saying, “The reason for this appears simple: like how it apparently views independent programmers that compete against the Turner networks for advertisers and viewers, AT&T apparently views union jobs at these holdings as a threat to AT&T’s bottom line.” What does the CWA’s support mean?
Judi Lopez: We are grateful for the CWA’s support. Our audience aligns with the membership of CWA and many other labor unions. Latino, Black and all people of color account for many workers who are currently putting their lives on the front lines, including nurses, emergency responders, teachers and those in the service industry. Along with many elected officials and appointees in the Biden administration, we support and respect their efforts to protect themselves and improve their working conditions.
Fuse also filed suit with AT&T for tortious interference with contracts and breach of confidentiality. If you’re able to elaborate, from your standpoint, what happened and what do you hope will be the outcome of the suit?
Mike Roggero: We can’t say too much more than is in the redacted, publicly-available court filing, but at the end of the day, not only has AT&T behaved in a discriminatory way when it comes to carriage, its refusal to make a serious carriage proposal – and the half-hearted and unequal proposal it finally did make – would substantially harm Fuse Media and impair our ability to compete.
AT&T has a well-documented history of interfering with programmer negotiations, going back to its 2017 civil antitrust settlement with the DOJ, and after being faced with similar behavior impacting our business, we had no choice but to file this complaint.
What details can you share about the upcoming airing of Fuse Town Hall: The Georgia Run-off Election?
Judi Lopez: We are very excited about the Town Hall series that recently launched in November during the national elections. This is an opportunity to speak directly to our audience and give them facts from people just like them, who are living the same issues.
When we saw that the Georgia Senate races would be decided in January, our content team immediately put together an amazing program with our long-time partner, the Voto Latino Foundation, and our recent partner, Stacey Abrams. It will not only address the election but do so through the lens of why our audience should care about it, wherever in America they live. This is the latest example of how we are able to quickly move to serve our audience.
What effect may the tension with AT&T have on Monday’s event? Is it in danger of being unavailable to viewers?
Judi Lopez: The event is in production now and will air as scheduled on Monday. We are hopeful that all of our viewers will be able to watch this very important program.
Note: In an emailed statement, an AT&T spokesperson said, “We treat all programmers fairly, including Fuse. They want the FCC to order us to carry programming our customers don’t want or value. We look forward to responding.”