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The seven things Fusion screwed up, according to Felix Salmon

Don’t let TV people build your website. “Obviously.”

Fusion Senior Editor Felix Salmon says he carries business cards with an FAQ on the back, explaining Fusion’s increasingly convoluted corporate structure.

Salmon joined the company in 2014, when it was a joint venture between Disney’s ABC and Univision; today, it’s part of Univision’s large portfolio of digital properties that also includes The Onion and the former Gawker Media, now known as the Gizmodo Media Group.

Fusion made a splash back then as a somewhat-confusing-yet-ambitious effort, hiring several big-name journalists, including Salmon himself, Jezebel founder Anna Holmes, former Atlantic writer Alexis Madrigal and others. But things didn’t quite work as planned. (Holmes left almost a year ago to join First Look Media.)

So at our Code Media conference today at the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point, Calif., Salmon laid out seven mistakes Fusion made:

1. Fusion decided that it was going to launch as “an English-language current affairs TV station aimed at Hispanic millennials.”

It turned out those millennials “weren’t really big on being pigeonholed as Hispanic,” Salmon said. So Fusion pivoted to a broader group of millennials.

2. “Although we managed to fix that before we launched, we didn’t fix that before we built our headquarters in this place called Doral, Florida” — “you drive through it, basically, on the way to Miami airport.”

This wasn’t useful for recruiting; Fusion would have been better off in Oakland or Brooklyn.

3. “I think, just, starting with a TV channel.”

It’s seductive — there’s a lot of money in TV — but you can’t just force people to watch TV. And if you start there, you have to work around your cable deals.

Also: “We decided we were going to launch mostly with live TV,” and that’s particularly hard to do on non-TV platforms.

4. Fusion decided to do most of its production in-house.

But finding talent was hard, and it’s harder to fire staff than just let go of a third-party production company.

5. Managing growth: Steady is ideal.

What you don’t want to do is hire a bunch of people and then have to fire them, creating a lot of unnecessary turmoil.

“It’s better to just keep growing, you know, like cattle — you always want to have them growing, you don’t want to fatten them up and then get them slimmer. Why am I making livestock metaphors? I have no idea!”

6. Don’t let TV people build your website. “Obviously.”

If you start as a TV brand, the website gets built as a sort of “digital presence” for the TV brand, which doesn’t help the digital property. Fusion has a bunch of big, successful digital brands. None of them started as a TV channel.

7. “We’ve learned to be a little bit suspicious about the kinds of synergies we’ve all been hearing a bunch about video.”

Those synergies between TV and online are good at one thing — “creating meetings” — and bad at creating good TV or online video content.

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