Today in Los Angeles, the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing to explore the implications of the Comcast/NBCU joint venture for diverse communities. Among the witnesses were several leading African American content producers who have worked successfully with Comcast to promote diversity in media. I think their remarks were of great interest, and we highlight some of them below.
Alfred C. Liggins, III, Chairman, TV One:
"Eight years ago, I began to pitch the idea of a new cable television channel that would provide real entertainment and education to the African-American community – television that assumed the audience’s intelligence, instead of insulting it. Programming that would inspire, uplift and educate. Programming that would allow the African-American community to see itself as it really is, but also would allow our fellow citizens to see us, too, unfiltered. Our goal was to create the nation’s only African-American controlled and operated programming service, given that BET’s founder had long ago sold off his network.
"For the most part, cable operators granted me polite audiences to pitch carriage on their systems, but then ultimately turned me down as occurs with most programmers these days. There was one exception. Brian Roberts, Steve Burke, David Cohen and the senior leadership team at Comcast seemed to ‘get it’ right from the start. Comcast understood the value and importance of their African-American customers and quickly agreed to become our major strategic partner. They gave us significant exposure on their cable systems, which helped to create momentum with advertisers. They also negotiated a deal that helped finance the network, made a sizable cash investment while allowing my team to retain significant ownership, even in excess of Comcast’s ownership stake, ceded management control and worked with me to allow a competitor, DirecTV, to acquire an interest in the network. And, it was with great pride that we launched TV One on January 19, 2004, the day that the nation paid tribute to Martin Luther King."
For Mr. Liggins’ complete testimony, click here.
Will Griffin, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Hip Hop On Demand:
"Comcast has the best infrastructure of inclusion to build upon in the media industry.
"Some of the very systems at the core of the Comcast media empire were birthed by African-American media owners. The Washington DC cable system was founded by Bob Johnson and funded by Herb Wilkins and Syncom. Syncom, along with John Johnson of Johnson Publishing, founded the Chicago Cable System. I liken this corporate family tree to the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemming descendants — it’s in your DNA, you might as well embrace it.
"I believe they have. In its official response to this committee’s questionnaire, Comcast has quantified its thousands of minorities in management positions and its tens of thousands of minority employees. Moreover, in each of the last five years, that number has continued to grow at a rate greater than that of whites in its corporate structure. This minority composition is vastly superior to any other media company and is eons ahead of the advertising, telecommunications, and financial services industries. That context is extremely important. But I’d like to highlight some examples of how having thousands of minorities in leadership positions at Comcast have been invaluable to me as an African-American Media owner.
"When we launched along with three other African-American channels, it was because a Comcast Corporate Vice President, Payne Brown, came to dozens of African-Americans in the creative community to educate us on the video on demand platform and the multi-billion-dollar investment that Comcast was making to become the industry leader in VOD. When we saw the ability to get distribution and programming directly to our core viewers, we were one of the few who actually raised the capital (from Syncom and Pacesetter Capital Group) and secured the advertisers to pursue the opportunity. Once on the platform, we began to market our channel and get support from the African-American General Managers who run the cable systems in Chicago, Washington, DC, Houston, South Florida and the entire Western Region of the United States. It is no coincidence that the larger markets with African-American GMs are our top performing markets. As part of our ongoing process of making viewers aware of our channel, we have supplied information to Comcast’s customer service teams who are largely African-American and supervised by an African-American Female SVP. It certainly helps when explaining our channel to subscribers.
"The result is that, according to a study conducted by Starcom Media Group, African-Americans are more than twice as likely to use VOD than any other demographic.
"Finally, when our channel had trouble securing sponsors, Comcast packaged our channel along with some of their properties and was able to secure sponsors for us, which subsequently decided to advertise directly with us because of what we were able to deliver.
"Moreover, Comcast has served as our syndicator and secured us distribution on Cox, Insight, Bresnan and other cable systems, almost doubling our distribution reach – despite the fact that Comcast has no equity position in our company."
For Mr. Griffin’s complete testimony, click here.
Frank Washington, Chief Executive Officer, Crossings TV:
"Comcast should be acknowledged for realizing the power and the promise of this country’s ethnic communities. Not every media company does. My experience with the Minority Tax Certificate and the absence of minority oriented media alternatives suggest that, too often, companies either willfully ignore or incompetently overlook the business opportunity represented by this country’s minorities. Comcast appears to be a strong exception in this regard.
"All this suggests that Comcast and NBCU together will create a media company more sensitive to the needs and interests of minority interests than most. That is why I support their joint venture."
For Mr. Washington’s complete testimony, click here.
We are proud of what Comcast has done to facilitate programming and content opportunities for Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and women. Based on our record and the voluntary commitments we have offered in connection with the NBCU transaction, Comcast’s contribution to minority ownership and programming opportunities has been and will continue to be very strong.
Comcast intends to use the NBCU transaction to offer an unprecedented set of ownership opportunities to people of color and women in broadcasting, on cable, On Demand, and online.
In the past eight years, Comcast has licensed a significant amount of content for diverse audiences, expanding from carriage agreements with 20 broadcast and cable networks to over 140 such networks that serve minority communities. We have the best programming package for Hispanic/Latino audiences, offering more than 60 Spanish language broadcast and cable networks with quality content in major Hispanic markets — more than any other television distributor in the U.S. today. And we feature hundreds of hours of On Demand programming that deliver a variety of TV entertainment and music choices from various networks geared toward diverse and ethnic audiences.
Here are some of the highlights of our programming efforts directed at diverse audiences:
African American Programming:
Comcast carries 11 cable networks that specifically target the African American community. While most general audience programming serves African Americans viewers, we recognize that news, information, and entertainment programming exists that is specifically intended for the African American audience. We try to reach carriage agreements with networks that target African Americans.
Comcast features On Demand programming that delivers a variety of TV entertainment and music choices from various networks and programs that target African American audiences, including BET, TV One, H20 (Hip Hop On Demand), and recently-acquired Soul Train content.
Comcast recently launched Black Cinema on Demand, a celebration of black films, filmmakers, and actors past, present, and future focusing on the wide range of experiences, accomplishments, and points-of-view of black people, as expressed through the artistic medium of film.
In 2009, Comcast launched a program package that currently delivers more than 58 Hispanic cable networks on the majority of Comcast Cable systems. It is by far the largest Hispanic programming offering provided by any video provider in the country.
Comcast’s newly expanded Hispanic package includes a diverse mix of general entertainment, kids, news, sports, and movie networks. There is also geographic-specific content from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Argentina, among others.
Asian American Programming
- Comcast carries a variety of Asian content from a number of providers including SET Asia (SONY), STAR India PLUS, Zee TV, Bollywood Hits On Demand, STAR One, STAR India GOLD, VIJAY, tvK24, GMA Pinoy TV, GMA Life, The Filipino Channel, Phoenix Info News, Phoenix North American, CTI-Zhong Tian, SBN, and others. In all, Comcast carries 25 cable networks geared toward the Asian American community.
In addition, Comcast regularly cooperates with broadcast stations to add independent- and minority-owned multicast streams to our systems. In the Hispanic space, we have added multicasts of V-Me, Estrella TV, and LATV in several markets, and we also carry several Asian multicasts in Northern California from independent Asian channels.
While NBCU and Comcast both already have solid records in creating and distributing diverse programming, the transaction will enable the new NBCU to do more than either company could do on its own. That will also be true for our partnerships with community organizations and our growth of a diverse workforce. We’re eager to get started.