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Network Tries to Light 'Fuse' Under MTV

Activist Sally Struthers has taken up a new cause, calling on Americans to “Please … Help Save Music Videos.”

In an irreverent spin on her image as an advocate for the hungry, the actress has become the advertising face for Fuse TV (search), an upstart music network intent on lighting a fire under MTV’s 20-year dominance of the genre.

“We have a very different voice in music television,” said Georgia Juvelis, a Fuse spokesperson. “The only other voice is MTV Networks (search).”

MTV Networks’ voice is certainly loud; it not only includes MTV and its international cousins, but also MTV2, VH1 and Country Music Television (search).

Fuse, which launched this week, has been trying to distinguish itself from MTV with its humorous ad campaign and what Juvelis calls a commitment to “fusing” together what its viewers – people aged 12-34 – see on television and on the Internet. 

“The group doesn’t watch TV like we used to. They watch while online, while IMing with their friends,” Juvelis said. “They’re basically multitasking.”

For example, Fuse's IMX is part TV show, part Internet game. Viewers can go to the network's Web site, Fuse.tv, and buy "stock" in artists from Eminem to R.E.M. Then, they can deal "shares" of bands, rappers and singers, looking to buy when they're underground and sell when they're superstars. Traders can then use that fake cash to enter network-sponsored contests.

“We are giving the viewer the opportunity to pick the music they hear on our network,” Fuse CEO Marc Juris told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. “We have a show called Oven Fresh, which is where we premiere new music videos. Viewers go online [and can view video clips] of the new song … and then they select if they would like to keep that song on our network or not.”

But Fuse isn't relying on interactive gimmicks. It's focusing on carving out a niche against MTV by criticizing the network’s lack of actual music video programming – something of a refrain among music fans. 

“MTV proper is not really a music channel,” said Mike Jansen, a 24-year-old from New York. “They have some very entertaining programs, like The Osbournes and Jackass, and their music news is solid, but I don't think many people flip there to watch a video.”

“I think it is an entertainment channel because a lot of the shows that they show have nothing to do with music,” said 19-year-old Kavitha Mukund, a sophomore at Cornell University who is a self-professed devotee of MTV staples like The Real World and Road Rules.

And even those who work with the music channel agree that fans have a point.

“MTV does not equal a music channel the way it once did,” admits David Cohn, the general manager of MTV2.

However, Cohn said that MTV2 has stepped in to offer the music video programming no longer aired on the network’s senior sibling. 

“Its about finding formats for music videos that are interesting and that the audience wants to see,” Cohn said, adding that MTV also shows other music programming such as the $2 Bill concert series and The Wrap

Despite its lack of videos, MTV obviously has the attention of music fans. But Fuse is not totally new to fighting the channel for viewers. For the last several years, Fuse has operated under the name MuchMusic USA. According to Juvelis, the moniker swap marks the end of the network’s relationship with Canadian media company CHUM Limited – who had owned a stake in the network until being bought out in 2000 by Rainbow Media, a subsidiary of Cablevision.

Whichever channel dominates, music fans will benefit from another option. With MTV2 available in 50 million homes and Fuse in 32 million – and growing – viewers will have several places to get their video fix.

“MTV2 has some good videos,” Jansen admits.  However, he said that Fuse’s Uranium, a hard-rock and metal show hosted by a punk-outfitted Juliya Chernetsky, offers a “much more edgy” alternative to the MTV family.

But that doesn’t mean MTV is loosening its grip on America’s youth.

“I like the shows [on MTV],” said Mukund. “I'm a reality TV junkie … I think it's mad entertaining.”