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Public, Private Money Meld at Fusion TV

April 23, 2014 - 6:00pm

Call it Florida Gov. Rick Scotts version of Tango & Cash.

The Republican made a splash in Miami last year when he pledged $5 million in state money to help launch the new youth-oriented Fusion network.

A product of ABC-Univision, Fusion targets millennial Hispanics with what it calls a mix of Pop Culture Satire. Blending Latino talent in an English format, the new cable offering recently trumpeted these headlines online:

We went naked to a big festival for young adult nudists. It was awesome.

Stephen Colbert and why we need to keep talking about diversity on TV.

Eva Mendes on her new fashion line.

The do's and don'ts of taking the ultimate d*ck pic.

Lots of drug talk, too, including a standing feature titled Cannabusiness.

ABC and Univision arent hurting for cash. The Spanish-language Univision has significantly more viewers than its closest rival, NBCs Telemundo.

But when ABC-Univision sought help for Fusion last summer, Scott opened the public purse.

Providing incentives to business is a very big part of Gov. Scotts administration, said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg.

Some work, some dont. Hes not all that fussy about handing out money to business ventures, Edmonds told

So far, Fusion has struggled. The Associated Press reported that the network has shed several programs and reduced its nightly news show from five days a week to one.

Jessica Sims, press secretary for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said state taxpayers are protected by requirements built into the High Impact Performance Incentive program.

The companys first required performance report (due next month) must show a capital investment of at least $110 million, the retention of 110 jobs, and the creation of 180 new jobs, Sims said. If performance is verified, the first payment of $2.5 million will be paid.

The second and final performance report for the period ending December 2016 requires the company to demonstrate an additional $164 million capital investment and an additional 65 new jobs, she added. That would release another $2.5 million.

No payments are made until performance is verified, Sims stressed.

Rosemary Mercedes, vice president for corporate and digital communications at Univision, declined to answer Watchdogs questions about the new 150,000-square-foot facility or job fulfillment.

In economic-development deals elsewhere, companies have hired part-timers to cut personnel costs and rented out surplus office space to generate income. Sims said businesses may use full-time equivalent calculations for job creation, such as two half-time workers equaling one full-time position.

More information will be made public in due course, Mercedes wrote in an email Wednesday.

She also declined to discuss up to $5 million in Dade County incentives supplementing the states contribution.

Fusions news offerings, anchored by America with Jorge Ramos, make the Florida incentives politically problematic.

Personally, I dont think its a line the media should cross, Edmonds said of news operations accepting taxpayer funding.

Jill Geisler, another Poynter analyst, said, Whenever government subsidizes journalism, editorial independence has to be baked in.

Univision, which will share the 150,000-square-foot news complex with Fusion in Miami, unabashedly promotes Obamacare and is generally friendly toward Democratic politicians. The Spanish-language network also takes a pro-immigration position.

Fusion appears more snarky than serious.

Scott, who is running for re-election this fall, may figure that helping English-speaking Hispanic hipsters play to Floridas urban markets will broaden his base.

For Geisler, the ultimate question will be: What are the expectations for the people who cover the government entities that subsidize their salaries?

For Mercedes, the answer remains up in the air. I do not have further details I can provide at this time, she said Wednesday.

Kenric Ward, former Sunshine State News political reporter, is a national reporter for and chief of the Virginia Bureau. Contact him at or at (571) 319-9824.

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