I had a chance last week to talk to TV One CEO Johnathan Rodgers about his decision to retire in July after a 45-year career in the media business, with roles ranging from staff reporter for Sports Illustrated in 1967 to president of CBS Television Station Group in the 1990s to head of Discovery Networks U.S. in the early 2000s.
With former The Weather Channel general manger Wonya Lucas now set to replace Rodgers at the African-American targeted network, Rodgers also reflected on his tenure at TV One, which he launched in 2004. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
R. Thomas Umstead: Why do you feel like this is the right time to leave TV One and retire?
Johnathan Rodgers: One reason was I truly believe that with the creation of an enterprise like a cable network you do need to change the management every five to 10 years just to get a fresh outlook and new views, and I actually stayed a year longer than I thought I was going to stay. Now is really the time for TV One to turn the page and keep moving forward. This is the third time I’m retiring – when I left CBS in late 1995 and Discovery in 2003, I used the term retire, so I don’t know if I should use the term retire here. I’m not seeking any other opportunities – I’m happy with my life, but you just never say no to anything
RTU: Are you satisfied with the development of TV One?
JR: It’s farther along than I thought it would be at this time. I’m really impressed with the fact that the operators listened and then rewarded their subscribers with TV One. More importantly, I’m glad the advertisers on Madison Avenue listened and understood that the promise of cable is also the promise of a marketer to be able to target products you want to the audience you want in the right type of environment. That’s what TV One did for the African American audience.
RTU: How do you see the African-American cable market developing over the next few years?
JR: I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if BET and TV One remain the only major [African-American] targeted networks. What I do foresee is a large number of multicultural networks where you don’t know whether its black, brown, green, yellow or whatever, but it has multicultural sensibilities that I think we as a nation are headed towards.
RTU: If you were to return to the entertainment industry, would you remain in cable or do you see the future in other distribution platforms?
JR: I still love cable, however I do believe that digital is the real future.
RTU: Over your career, what do you think are your most memorable moments?
JR: My most memorable moments at TV One will always be our coverage of the Democratic National Convention, and especially our coverage of election night. To be in [Chicago’s] Grant Park Chicago on election night with CNN, ABC and CBS was special. To have people like Eric Michael Dyson, Tom Joyner and Joe Madison on our air and to see tears rolling down their face after the election not only meant something to me but to our on air people and hopefully to our viewers.
RTU: TV One’s co-owner Comcast has pledged to launch several minority-owned networks. Will their efforts be a bellwether for the industry in the development of network and content targeted to multicultural viewers?
JR: First of all I think Comcast should be complimented for this endeavor. I think their efforts will be effective – it may take a while, but because of Comcast there will be two new Hispanic channels and two new Black channels in the foreseeable future. It’ll be up to them to make them successful.