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Symonds Comes Calling

1/16/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

A familiar face, ex-Black Entertainment Network head of affiliate marketing Curtis Symonds, is once again calling on operators.

But this time he’s looking for affiliation deals of a different ilk: He’s asked cable operators to step up and support the T. Howard Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to bring diversity to the satellite television industry.

Yes, you heard that right. Satellite.

While cable already has its own organization to foster diversity, the Walter Kaitz Foundation, Symonds contends that the mission ahead — to create a truly diverse workforce — is so huge that there’s no reason why cable operators should not support T. Howard.

This will be interesting to watch unfold. Kaitz, via its annual dinner, raises money to create grants which are largely doled out to middlemen parties, like Women in Cable & Telecommunications and the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications, two outfits which run their own diversity programs for cable’s middle- and upper-management ranks.

T. Howard, by contrast, also has an annual fund-raising dinner, but uses the proceeds to place young minority and female fellows in entry-level jobs. And Symonds says there is a need for both organizations and their different approaches.

On April 13, T. Howard is honoring ESPN chieftain George Bodenheimer at its dinner in New York. Programmers, like ESPN have supported T. Howard for years, by buying tables and taking fellows. That’s largely because they already work with the two satellite members, EchoStar Communications Inc. and DirecTV Group Inc., who carry their networks on that distribution platform.

But will cable operators embrace T. Howard, a satellite organization? Judge for yourself by watching my interview with Symonds on This Week in Cable, online at Multichannel.com (www.multichannel.com/multivision).

Symonds doesn’t mince words when he argues that there is room for both Kaitz and T. Howard in the noble cause of diversifying the entertainment industry. Symonds, a lifelong champion of diversity, invested a boatload of his large severance package from Black Entertainment Television to build a sports center for youth in the Washington, D.C., area.

That’s walking the walk — and now he’s heading your way. My first question to him will probably be yours, too. And that is, by contributing to T. Howard, are cable operators going to be boosting the satellite industry — the menacing competition, if you will?

His answer is a simple no. The problem, he says is far larger than fighting for competitive turf.

Symonds said he has already had preliminary and positive discussions with several MSO heads, who say they’re behind him.

And that is astonishingly enlightened in this highly charged competitive landscape.

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