Carving Niches in the African-American Market


TV One executive vice president of programming and development Rose Catherine Pinkney and Black Family Channel vice president of programming Michele Clark Jenkins may be the new content decision-makers at their networks, but they're certainly not new to the television business. Both are seasoned veterans and each has a plan to create unique, appealing and informative original programming for African-American viewers of all ages.

After three months on the job, Jenkins is looking to step up the 14 million-subscriber network's development of original, family-friendly fare. With a resume that includes heading the Black Entertainment Television/Tim Reid venture United Image Entertainment and a 15-year stint at Home Box Office, Jenkins says she's looking for unique and relevant programming targeting the network's 18-34 core audience. But that fare won't include gratuitous sex or violence; in fact, Jenkins says that almost all of its programming will be rated TV-PG or lower so that the whole family can view.

While Jenkins' influence will be thoroughly felt in October when the network rolls out its new lineup, she has already been tinkering with its programming, which includes about 25% originally produced content. Jenkins' fingerprints will be all over a weekly show featuring a mix of film shorts produced by African-Americans that will debut in April. She also wants to commission more sports programming.

For Jenkins, any show she greenlights has to be informative and relevant to the network's audience. “When I joined Black Family Channel, everything that I saw on the network, the audience was able to walk away with some information and something more to think about than before they came to that TV set,” she said. “I want all of our programming to be just like that.”

As for competing with the likes of BET for African-American viewers, Jenkins said there are some differences in their core audiences and programming strategies. “I see BET as reaching a much younger audience than we do, being much more music-oriented than we are,” she said.

As for Pinkney, she hasn't lost a step in the transition last December from her last job as senior vice president of comedy development at Paramount Network TV to her TV One post. While not revealing specifics, Pinkney says she has a number of show concepts up her sleeve that she believes will appeal to the 27 million-subscriber network's older-skewing 25-54 target audience.

“The thing that we say over and over when we look at a show is, 'Is this something that is unique to the African-American experience?'” said Pinkney. “Since we want to be the destination for African-American adults, we're going to have to find things that meet that criteria.”

Ultimately, Pinkney's goal is to deliver programming that's entertaining — whether it's a dating show, a public affairs forum or a cooking show — and that can talk to a very non-homogeneous African-American audience.

“We're targeting such a broad African-American audience from all parts of the country, all socioeconomic status, different religious and philosophical backgrounds,” she said. “So what we're trying to do is be true to ourselves. When you look at our programming you're going to see a wide variety of things that might be of interest to anyone that falls within that range.”

Of the competitive landscape, Pinkney said, “Because African Americans often define the trends that are pop culture, we tend to compete against anyone who is interested in programming hipper or more urban content. I often say it's really not pop culture but hip-pop culture because so many things that are interesting and trendy start with African-Americans.”