People

Rice Drives Distribution at TV One

After Switch From TV News, EVP Is Key Mover Behind Network’s Growth 1/25/2016 8:00 AM Eastern
TV One's Michelle Rice

MICHELLE RICE

TITLE: Executive VP, Content Distribution and Marketing, TV One

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Led TV One from 18 million subscribers to nearly 60 million. Launched TV One High Def in 2009 in 15 million households. Graduate of WICT Betsy Magness Leadership Institute.

QUOTE: “Women always think that they need to know everything before they get to the next level. If you take a job and day one you know everything, it’s not the right job. You should always be challenging yourself.’’

— Michelle Rice

Michelle Rice grew up knowing she wanted to be in TV news. When she graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree, she got her wish — and hated it.

Working in the “news pit” of a local television station, she was stressed and poorly paid. Nobody seemed to have a life outside of work. The news director was 30 years old with an ulcer. One day, Rice spotted a cheerful-looking man in a sharp suit walking through the newsroom en route to his own office. “He looks like he’s making good money, he’s happy,” Rice recalled. “I said, ‘What does he do?’”

He was the sales manager, and that was the day Rice decided to go over to the business side. On top of that, one of her college professors told her to check out “that new thing” called cable. 

It was a good tip: today Rice is the executive vice president of content distribution and marketing for African-American-targeted TV One, the chair of the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications, and an executive board member of Women in Cable Telecommunications.

BUILDING A POWERHOUSE

Not only did she help build TV One’s distribution from 18 million homes on two cable providers to nearly 60 million subscribers, but she has now successfully completed a second round of distribution agreements for the 12-year-old network.

“I’m very proud of that,” Rice said. “Initially people said, ‘Hey we really want you guys to be successful, we believe in the mission, we’re going to help you get off to a good start.’ Round two, people are worried about their margins and we have to prove that we’ve done the things we said we were going to do.”

Although BET, with 90 million subscribers, still outpaces TV One, African-American viewers want choice, Rice said. “We are not a monolithic group of people. We want different experiences, we have a lot of interests,” she said. “There can be more than one or two networks targeting the audience. We’ve done it with class and with quality and I think we’ve proved we belong on cable networks. 

Rice entered the cable industry armed with a master’s degree in communications management from the University of Southern California and a Walter Kaitz Foundation fellowship. She started as a manager of special markets for BET, then went to NBC Cable Networks as director of affiliate sales/special markets. There, she was responsible for distribution of CNBC, MSNBC and ShopNBC (now Evine Live) to accounts including satellite-TV providers DirecTV and Dish Network.

Back then, Rice said, “Nobody thought this little pizza piesized dish was going to mean anything. They said, ‘Hey give the new girl that stuff.’”

After five years at NBC, Rice hopped to pay-per-view packager In Demand to “get my VP stripes.” In 2004, her husband got a job in Washington, D.C. The couple had an agreement that it was his turn to move the family for his career, so Rice prepared to move. Then he handed her a newspaper story on Comcast’s decision to launch TV One. That was all it took.

“I love the mission of the network,” Rice said. “I remember growing up in the Cosby Show generation. … I was excited to see my experience on the screen. I was so excited to be a part of TV One because it has definitely shown African-Americans in a very diverse way, with all our interests and our culture, and the representation is high quality. What I love is that I feel I’ve been a part of that mission and breaking down those stereo types about the audience.”

WATCHING OUT FOR CABLE’S DIVERSITY

At NAMIC, Rice’s focus is on preserving diversity in the cable industry in the wake of job cuts due to merger-related consolidations. The major cable systems are already on notice, she said. “They take it very seriously and they are really looking at how this issue of consolidation is affecting their diversity numbers,” Rice said. After meeting with organizations including NAMIC and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Charter Communications said on Jan. 15 that it had promised to ensure diversity in its boardroom if its merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by the FCC.

“I do think NAMIC is going to have a very big job ahead to make sure that as our numbers decline we are supporting folks getting back to work … and making sure that the industry stays accountable for being diverse,” Rice said. “I think it’s going to be a big issue. But I feel people are talking about it.”

In July, Rice was named to the executive committee of Women in Cable Telecommunications, where she has served on the board since 2012.

“She’s bubbly, she’s inclusive, she’s kind; I think she’s gentle in one-on-one conversations, but certainly holds her own when there’s a business topic being addressed,” said Martha Soehren, chair of WICT and chief talent development officer at Comcast. “People at our levels need to know when to step back and not show up like you’re leading the board discussion” and when to bring the fi repower. “She can do both of those.”

Rice and her husband, a consultant for Booz Allen, are the parents of a 16-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son — so her rare free time is spent “relaxing,” reading, attending her kids’ sports events and working with community organizations including the Northern Virginia Urban League, where she is on the board of directors. Part of the reason she’s so busy is that she still has plenty of goals to achieve: she wants to launch a new business for TV One. Not to mention write a book, travel with her kids and start a nonprofit to help homeless women.

“I definitely see myself starting something on my own and really focusing on helping women get out of shelters and get back to work,” she said. “That’s my passion.”

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