Basketball Hall of Famer and business entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson will soon play on the cable
industry’s court with the summer launch of Aspire, an African-American targeted, family themed basiccable
service. Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead recently talked to Johnson
about his plans for Aspire, one of four multicultural-themed networks Comcast agreed to launch under
the voluntary conditions of the NBCUniversal joint venture. In a wide-ranging interview, the business mogul
also talked about his role in a bid to purchase baseball’s the Los Angeles Dodgers.
MCN: What do you want to accomplish with
Magic Johnson: We’re trying to fill a void in the
marketplace for African-Americans. When you
think about it, BET does a wonderful job catering
to the younger audience, and TV One’s [audience]
is just a little older than them. It’s the professional
30-and-over [audience] where there’s
a void, so we’re going to speak to them and program
toward them and really bring some good
family programming through Aspire to that
audience. We’re excited about the opportunity
— I know that the African-American creative
community is very excited because there are
not enough opportunities for them to showcase
their talents. Th e actors, actresses, directors,
producers and writers are all excited. My phone
has been fl ooded, so we know there’s an opportunity
there and we’re going to take advantage of
MCN: Is there a large enough audience to support familyvalues
programming on cable, given the popularity of more
salacious programming coming out of the reality genre?
MJ: Yeah, I think so. I can remember when Tyler Perry first
started the whole faith-based movement — people said there’s
no way it’s going to work. And now, a few hundred million
dollars later, he’s doing an incredible job, because they were
underserved and Tyler delivered for them. It’s the same thing
here: I think there are a lot of minority viewers that are not
watching TV because no one is speaking to them, so there’s
a huge opportunity. Of course, you’re going to still have the
reality shows on other networks and that’s going to work for
that other audience — and a lot of times it’s the younger audience.
But there are a lot of advertisers who want to speak to
the professional, 30-and-over crowd. We’re going to give them
a chance to do that.
MCN: How influential will Comcast be in terms of getting the
network distribution, and what do you think of their overall
commitment to offering multicultural networks?
MJ: We’re going to need distribution and we are getting that
from them, so that’s one great thing. Just providing this opportunity
is huge both from the African-American and the Latino
side — again, we’re still underserved. So it’s huge for them and
huge for us; now we just have to deliver.
They’ve done a great job and they’ve been
very good to work with, so we’ve had no
problems with them — hats off to [Comcast
chairman and CEO] Brian Roberts.
Right now it’s been really, really good, and
I anticipate that it will continue to stay that
We have a great committee with Rev. Al
Sharpton and (NAACP president and CEO)
Ben Jealous, and those guys who have really
been on top of Comcast making sure that
they meet all of the requirements, so hats off
to them for making sure that these opportunities
were available to us.
MCN:You have so many investments
in so many other industries. How does
Aspire stack up among them?
MJ: It’s a great investment because we have
other platforms to help it in the new media space. We own almost
30 radio stations; we own [urban-targeted publications]
Vibe and Uptown Magazine; and the Soul Train brand. I’m
building a one-stop-shop platform for advertisers, sponsors
and people who want to reach minorities.
MCN: How hands-on will you be in the day-to-day
operations of the network? Will we see you on air?
MJ: No, no. (Laughs). I make businesses work — I’m not the
programming director or the guy that will run the network
day to day. We’re going to get someone who’s been in the business.
As we speak, we’re down to our last few candidates. But
that’s not what I do … I’m smart enough to know to hire somebody
that’s excellent in that field. Th at’s why I’ve been successful,
because I know how to pick the right people, and we’ll do
the same thing here.
MCN: What other investments are you looking at? There
are rumors that you’re interested in the Dodgers.
MJ: Well, there’s no rumor there — that’s the truth!
(Laughing). We’re going to make our run; we’re in the
third round [of talks] so we’ll have to see what happens.
Th ere’s not a lot I can tell you; we’re just waiting on marching
orders and we’ll take another run at it. I’m excited
about the opportunity, and we’ll see what happens.