The billboards started popping up around Manhattan on May 12.

Here was Sally Struthers, getting her beg on, trying to save an endangered species: the music video. “Every Day, thousands of music videos go unplayed. Please help save music videos,” she implores. “Watch Fuse.”

One of the billboards just happened to be right outside the offices of MTV.

Then there were the coffee cups. Two million of them. Handed out around New York, emblazoned with the phrase, “Where’s the M in emptee-vee?”

And so was born Fuse, 9-month-old, New York-based, cable music channel that’s starting to pump up the volume and attract a lot of attention.

“MTV is a very different network than we are,” Fuse President Marc Juris says. “They have different expectations. They’re building a large, youth-oriented network. We’re building a new music network. We’re building a multidimensional music brand. That’s a very different model and point of view.”

-A sampling of teen tastes conducted in October by media analyst Jack Myers, who interviewed more than 1,300 teen-agers, ranked the network sixth among the 35 broadcast and cable networks included in the study. Among teen girls and all 15- to 18-year-olds, it came in at No. 1.

-Fuse is already branching out to concert sponsorship, slapping its name on tours by Staind, Deftones and the current Simple Plan/MxPx run. Upcoming is the Crystal Method tour.

While Fuse has a long way to go before attaining MTV’s name recognition and clout – the landmark network is in more than 86 million homes, spinoff MTV2 is in 50 million homes, and MTVU, on college campuses, was just launched – it has both music fans and music-industry watchers buzzing.

“Even though their ratings are a fraction of MTV’s, their audience is extremely loyal,” says Myers, publisher of the Jack Myers Report and the Teen Media Brand Tracker Study. “They’ve tapped into a market that MTV has ignored, that is looking for new music.”

It’s all sweet music to the ears of Marc Juris, the man charged with taking a well-regarded but obscure video-music channel, MuchMusic USA, an offshoot of the Canadian MuchMusic videochannel, rebranding it, and getting people to watch it. He’s doing that by playing videos and forgoing nonmusic programming, such as “The Osbournes” and “The Real World,” which has dominated MTV’s schedule in recent years. Beyond that, he made the station interactive: Fans can go online and vote on videos, purchase or sell “stock” in bands, or dedicate videos to significant others and friends.

“What I saw was an opportunity to give viewers a true voice in the way the music network would be programmed,” says Fuse President Juris. “The Internet obviously has been disruptive in the way business is conducted. But there was a great opportunity to harness that power.”

Like Frodo bearing the ring, Fuse has started to attract the attention of the big boy on the block: MTV. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, MTV parent company Viacom, which reportedly has contracts with record companies giving Viacom channels exclusive rights to the labels’ videos, lately has been enforcing this provision. That means they have claimed first rights to Radiohead’s “There There” and Beyonce Knowles’ “Crazy in Love” among others. (MTV declined to comment for this story.)

But Juris is not worried. “That has no real direct impact, because our whole brand is about up-and-coming new music,” he says.

Fuse is also seeking audiences that MTV might only address on its niche channels, such as MTV Espanol – channels that may not be widely available. Fuse is pursuing the “urban Latino” crowd with a Monday night show, Marcha, dedicated to Latin alternative rock.

“I realized there was no Latin alternative music being aired and there was so much of it out there,” says Marcha creator/producer Moira Noriega.

Tomas Cookman, head of Los Angeles-based Cookman International, which oversees the careers of such popular Latin rock bands as La Ley, Aterciopelados, and the electronica Nortec Collective, is a Fuse fan. “It’s more in line with (the bands’) natural audiences than going to Miami and doing the (Spanish-language) morning shows,” he explains.

For all the shots Fuse takes at MTV, and even with the rumors of new music channels being developed by the Universal Music Group (1 A.M.) and the Playboy Channel (H.Y.P.E. TV), Juris says there’s enough room for everybody.

“MTV is a very different network than we are,” he says. “They have different expectations. They’re building a large, youth-oriented network. We’re building a new music network. We’re building a multidimensional music brand. That’s a very different model and point of view.

“I have a very basic philosophy: If I’m only looking at MTV, MTV2 or MTVU as my competition, I’m looking at the world with blinders on. Here’s the competition: everything. Video games, DVDs, the online world. A teen-ager has a lot of things taking that time. It’s not about one TV network. It’s about the world of choice.”

So what about those ads, then? In addition to Struthers, others have featured Hair Club for Men founder Sy Sperling (“Fuse – looks natural even when wet”) and Tammy Faye (“I’ve seen the light. It was on TV and it has music videos on it. Fuse – No. 1 with Tammy, who is No. 3 with drag queens”).

“We just like to have a sense of humor and be playful,” Juris explains. “But you know what? The music network ain’t playing music and we are. Clearly, it’s a competitive point with us. We hear it from record companies and people: You play music. (Until now) there’s somehow been broad public acceptance of a music network not playing music.”




WE’RE HERE FOR YA, MTV

Just as Bart openly mocks Homer, so Fuse can’t resist slamming MTV. Because MTV produced the Super Bowl halftime spectacle that included Janet Jackson’s nearly full monty, the Fuse folks had to have their say. They issued an “open letter to MTV”:

Dear Friends at MTV,

Every day the entertainment industry is a victim of senseless, brutal wardrobe malfunctions, accidents and outright crimes.

MTV, we at Fuse are standing with you!

Even though we are competitors, we think it’s time to put aside our differences and take a stand. Let us not dwell on last Sunday’s halftime show – the dated songs, the random crotch grabs and the senseless lip-synching. No. Let’s put all that aside and focus on the issue at hand: VELCRO DOES NOT WORK.

Many of us here have been victims of wardrobe malfunctions and understand the life-long impact one single costume catastrophe can have.

We at Fuse will support you any way we can. We will continue to play music videos every day, all day, day after day after day.

We are also willing to donate generously to the I.F.D.A.D.A.N.T. (The Institute for the Development of Advanced Double Adhesive Nipple Tape).

Signed in solidarity, Your Friends at Fuse P.S. For what it’s worth, we also thought Chicken of the Sea was a chicken-based product. Give the breast a rest. Watch music videos on Fuse.



(c) 2004, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Visit the Star-Telegram on the World Wide Web at http://www.star-telegram.com.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-02-17-04 0624EST



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