Media Diversity Not an All or Nothing Game
In 1992 Bill Cosby expressed his desire to purchase NBC — a network that he turned around with programming featuring African-American characters and story lines — but was told the network was not for sale.
Not long before that, FOX launched with a major focus on African-American programming — remember Living Single, Martin, and Roc? But after a series of acquisitions, mergers, stock swaps, and expansion into Fox News, the company abandoned its Black roots, trading Queen Latifah for Glenn Beck.
More recently, when UPN and The WB merged, the first casualties were the African-American shows — Girlfriends, Eve, All of Us — that made up the bulk of UPN’s line-up.
The answer says a lot about what’s wrong with the media in America, and what we need to do to fix it. In short, minority-themed programs get sent to the chopping block first because advertisers will not pay for every African-American viewer that makes up a show’s audience. It’s the same reason why African-American publishing icons like Ebony/Jet are in decline.
This is true of my own experience with Hip Hop OnDemand. Fortunately, we had lined up big-name sponsors right off the bat. But when global economic woes and other factors led many big companies to cut their ad budgets, in typical fashion our budgets were sacrificed first — despite the fact that we have experienced viewership growth in each and every quarter. If my company was paid for every one of the 500 million potential ad impressions generated, I could have made my own run at NBC!
Now, the proposed joint venture between NBC and Comcast Corp. has prompted a renewed discussion about the future of minority-owned media and, more broadly, program diversity. At least one organization has called on Congress and the FCC to further delay the deal (it’s already been 11 months) unless Comcast sets aside twenty-five channels for African-American media owners, defined as 100 percent African-American owned. But that is simply unworkable and doesn’t address the challenges we face; it only delays investment and job opportunities when the nation — and many of the hard hit urban communities that Comcast serves — can least afford it.