Magic’s Aspire Hopes for an Early Lead

One Year In, Multicultural Network Counts 15.5 Millon Subs

After one year on the air, Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s Aspire Network is hoping to run a full-court press on operators to widen distribution.

The African-American targeted network — founded by the basketball hall of famer-turned-entrepreneur and launched last June — is currently in front of more than 15.5 million viewers, more than double the 7 million viewers it has at launch, officials said. Aspire deals with Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

Aspire is one of four multicultural networks supported by Comcast under the merger conditions that allowed it to assume control of NBCUniversal.

“We’re ahead of where we expected to be and we’re still talking with all major operators, and hopefully will be making [distribution] announcements very soon,” said Aspire general manager Paul Butler, adding he expects to be in 20 million homes by the end of the year.

“The other operators are definitely seeing the value of Aspire, especially now that we have the network on and they can see how the network looks, what our point of view is and how we’re really showcasing the different viewpoints of the African-American community,” he said.

The family-themed network has built a stable of original series over the past 12 months that has help build the network’s brand among its target 18-49 year old African- American viewer, including interview series The Root 100; ABFF Independent, a showcase of popular and award-winning films from the American Black Film Festival (ABFF); and iAspire, a series of original profiles of the next generation of ground-breaking personalities in the African-American community.

While the network isn’t Nielsen-rated, Butler said he’s pleased with Aspire’s level of social-media engagement through its Facebook and Twitter pages. It has also been able to attract several top performers, including actor Laurence Fishburne, comedian Jonathan Slocumb and actor Omari Hardwick, as hosts for its various blocks of acquired movies, independent films and comedy content.

“We weren’t expecting this caliber of talent to join us so we’re excited about that,” he added.

For its one-year anniversary last Thursday (June 27) the network launched its first original talk show, Exhale, in which former Essence editor in chief Angela Burt- Murray; actress and comedian Erin Jackson; director, writer and actress Issa Rae; blogger, author and TV anchor Rene Syler; and actress Malinda Williams discussing the issues facing African-Americans today. Similar to such shows as ABC’s The View, the weekly series will provide a fresh in-depth, perspective on topics that are relevant to the lives of African-American women, according to Butler.

“We’re hoping that viewers will be inspired, informed, entertained and that they continue the conversation wherever we gather as a community,” he said.

Aspire’s anniversary comes on the heels of other high-profile announcements over the past two months from two of the four Comcast-supported multicultural networks.

Revolt, founded by music mogul P Diddy, said it has finalized a national carriage agreement with Time Warner Cable. The music-themed channel is expected to launch later this year.

Hispanic-targeted entertainment network El Rey Network this past May struck a strategic partnership with Univision Communications that will help the English-language network once it launches in December. El Rey, founded by movie director/producer Robert Rodriguez, will offer a mix of reality, scripted and animated series, movies, music and sports programming.

Comcast has yet to set another round of bids for more multicultural-themed cable networks. Overall, Comcast — as part of its commitment made in connection with its deal for control of NBCUniversal — has said it will launch 10 new independent channels over the next eight years, including eight that are Hispanic- and African- American owned or operated.


Having secured carriage with Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s Aspire is pressing to add more distribution.