Delivering Diversity at Broadband Speed


Let me say it straight out: More than any other time in the development of modern media, people of color have an enormous opportunity to distribute content developed and created by themselves for themselves.

I know that’s a bold and astonishing statement to make, especially given the paucity of shows currently founded on the boob tube featuring stars with widely different cultural backgrounds.

All one has to do is look at the mostly white casts for new fall broadcast shows to see that television has yet to fully reflect the diversity of its viewing audience on-screen.

The diverse cast put together for this season of CBS’s Survivor doesn’t count as progress. I fear the concept of pitting blacks, Asians, whites and Hispanics against each other in a superficial, made-for-TV “competition” will more likely embolden bigots and their twisted, ethnic stereotypes rather than bring forth greater understanding and tolerance between races.

Nor has cable’s 500-channel world produced a cornucopia of cable networks targeted to minorities. Despite their efforts, BET, TV One and Black Family Channel alone can’t represent the full spectrum of African-American interests and needs, any more than AZN Television and ImaginAsian TV can speak for the entire Asian-American community.

Rather, the best opportunity today for people of color to tell their stories via video lies in the emergence of broadband. The Internet has given anyone with a digital camera the ability to showcase their artistic talents before millions of Web-surfing eyeballs.

“The entire playing field is the most level it’s ever been,” said Albert Cheng, executive VP of digital media for the Disney-ABC Television Group. Chang and several executives from the cable, financial and video game sectors who spoke last week at the annual National Association of Multi-Ethnicity In Communications Conference praised the great potential the Web now holds for minorities unable to get their television projects distributed through conventional means.

The social-networking site and the video-sharing platform have given voices to millions of people — be they Black, White, Hispanic Asian or Native Indian — to reach millions of others without having to pass through gatekeeper media conglomerates such as Viacom Inc., News Corp. or Comcast Corp.

Current TV (See Spotlight, page 24) provides a platform for minorities to create and distribute video “pods” reflecting their lives, dreams, frustrations, and humor. In that way, to tell it like it is.

In fact, Current is inviting would-be filmmakers to submit nonfiction videos that explore the theme of tolerance, which may include topics such as racism, sexism, homophobia or issues related to class, disability, age or religion. The network is awarding $100,000 to the winner.

For sure, there are hundreds of aspiring Spike Lees, Reginald Hudlins and Robert Townsends in the urban markets who now have a vehicle to get their message across.

Certainly people of color are embracing broadband from a consumer standpoint. A recent Pew Internet and AmericanLife Project survey reported that 31% of African American households have high-speed Internet access as of March 2006. About 40% of both white and Latino households have broadband Internet, up a whopping 121% from 14% of those households in March 2005, according to the survey.

Of course, there are some hurdles to overcome. Not everyone in the ’hood has the means to purchase a digital camera — or the video-editing equipment needed to develop a quality project. Further, many minorities are not even aware of the empowerment potential of video broadband.

But as equipment prices come down and minority audiences gain awareness of and access to high-speed broadband services, it’s only a matter of time before more quality minority-produced content becomes available online, through video podcasts via iTunes or on mobile phones. These new-media platforms should serve as a major weapon in the fight for diversity — the ultimate melting pot of images and messages spread virally through a medium that’s virtually boundless and limitless.

Now if you excuse me, I have to go charge my camcorder. There’s more than one way to tell this story.