Caucus, Cable Execs Meet to Clear the Air

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The Congressional Black Caucus as soon as this week is expected to present a proposal to voluntarily improve minority ownership opportunities in the cable industry.

That follows a meeting held last Wednesday between the 39-member caucus and a cadre of operator and programming executives to discuss concerns that cable isn't doing enough to provide minority-owned companies with a chance to compete.

The proposal, spearheaded by CBC member Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), is expected to call for the creation of an investment fund that would lend money to minority-owned startups in the cable-system and programming businesses. That's according to Brian Woolfolk, partner in the Mattox-Woolfolk Pro Bono Project, a lobbying practice working with the CBC.

There also would be provisions to set aside a block of channels in each system for minority-owned networks.

"A lot of the investment funds that exist now supposedly aren't very active in lending money to startups," Woolfolk said. "Along with the investment fund, [the proposal] would also call for access to as many as 10 channels on a system, as well as a proposed deal with regard to carriage fees so they become sustainable."

Meeting roster

At the March 12 meeting were such industry executives as National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs, Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Glenn Britt, Comcast Corp. vice president of programming investments Amy Banse, Radio One Inc. CEO Alfred Liggins, Showtime Networks Inc. chairman Matt Blank, Black Entertainment Television chief operating officer Debra Lee and Discovery Communications Inc. president Judith McHale.

About 20 of the caucus's 39 elected representatives attended the entire meeting, with others attending at least part of it.

Sachs termed the two-hour meeting "productive." He said caucus members discussed their concerns, while cable executives discussed the economics involved with creating new channels and the business's overall market conditions.

The NCTA chief said cable has made strides in providing more employment opportunities for minorities, but more could be done and companies are working toward that goal.

"While the industry is reflective of the general population in terms of the workforce, there is a recognition among the senior-most executives that we need to do a better job in being reflective of the population in the executive ranks on both the operation and programming side," Sachs said.

There likely will be more communication with the CBC in future, Sachs said, although no additional meetings have been scheduled.

In order to get a true perspective of the challenges that minorities face within the industry, executives from minority-owned cable companies said they should be included in future meetings.

"We are the ones that should be meeting with those executives as well as with the Black Caucus," said Tony Burroughs, CEO of the Jackson, Mich.-based Glory Network. "There needs to be a discussion about why minority owned networks cannot get a fair share of the cable pie when it comes to carriage and distribution."

To protest the inability of his two-year old gospel network and other minority-owned services to gain significant carriage, Burroughs is calling for a national boycott of cable by African-American consumers.

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