An Opportunity for Diversity

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While big mergers can sometimes be bad
news for “the small guy,” the biggest media deal of the
decade — the one proposed between Comcast and NBC
Universal — offers a historic opportunity for
independent and minority-owned television
programmers and filmmakers. Recently,
three prominent civil rights groups — the
NAACP, the National Urban League and
National Action Network — jointly developed
a plan with Comcast and NBCU that will
result in a significant increase in independent
and diverse programming.

Most significantly, Comcast has promised
to carry 10 new, independent networks
on its cable lineup — eight of which will be
African-American, Hispanic or other diversity
networks — and a $20 million venture-
capital fund to help minority media
programmers get off the ground. The company has also
made significant commitments to diversity in hiring, in
its partnerships and in a host of other activities. It will
create a model “joint diversity council” with leading civil-
rights organizations to monitor and evaluate its commitment
to diversity. Rarely have we seen this kind of
leadership in the context of a joint venture.

This kind of commitment, which may be a surprise
for the uninitiated, is no surprise to me.

Eight years ago, I pitched the idea of a new cabletelevision
channel, now known as TV One, that would
provide real entertainment and news to the African-
American community — television that assumed the
audience’s intelligence, instead of insulting it. Many
television executives and cable-television
providers granted me a polite audience
when I sought carriage. Nearly all of them
refused. Comcast not only expressed genuine
interest in the idea, but also quickly
agreed to give us significant exposure on
its systems — the make-or-break moment
for us. It offered to help finance the network
while allowing us to retain ownership and
substantial management control.

Today, TV One is one of the nation’s two
major African-American-oriented channels
(and the only one owned by African-Americans)
and reaches more than 50 million
homes via cable and satellite.

Every major media deal offers detractors an opportunity
to lodge broadsides. But the critical question for me
is whether the deal transfers the reins to executives that
appreciate media diversity, understand the social power
of images and have a proven track record of championing
inspired multicultural programming. By that measure,
the transfer of ownership control of NBCU from General
Electric to Comcast is a no-brainer.

Alfred Liggins is chairman of TV One and president and
CEO of Radio One.