'Diddy' as TV mogul? Why new network could face steep challenges.
'Diddy,' a.k.a. Sean Combs, will head one of four new minority-owned networks on Comcast. But with the TV landscape changing, 'Diddy' will have to do something special to stand out.
Cable provider Comcast announced Tuesday that it will carry four new channels, each headed by a minority owner â€“ Mr. Johnson, Mr. Combs, director Robert Rodriguez, and Spanish-language TV veteran Constantino â€śSaidâ€ť Schwarz.
When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal last year, it made an agreement with the FCC to diversify the cable landscape. The four new offerings were chosen from amongÂ 100 proposals. Johnsonâ€™s â€śAspire,â€ť scheduled to start this summer, will be the first to launch, followed by Combs's "REVOLT" in 2013, and Mr. Rodriguez's "El Rey" the year after. The fourth, â€śBabyFirst Americas,â€ť will be aimed at infants, very young children, and their parents.
The four channels will need to carve out their own niches in a minority media landscape already dominated byÂ BET (Black Entertainment Television) and Univision, analysts say.Â Big, recognizable names and good intentions are not enough. Oprah Winfreyâ€™s OWN Network, launched last year, is struggling, for example.
â€śThese are commercial enterprises which have to collect eyeballs, so they are going to need content to draw them in,â€ť says Len Shyles, a professor of communication at Villanova University in Philadelphia. â€śPeople will be drawn to the big names to check it out, but the cache of Magic Johnson and Sean 'Diddy' Combs will only last so long.â€¦ If the programming is crummy, it wonâ€™t work. Itâ€™s a pretty simple formula.â€ť
Johnson says Aspire "will be a network that encourages and challenges African-Americans to reach for their dreams and will appeal to all generations."Â
He says he is still searching for a chief executive, and that he will not have much involvement with programming.Â â€śIâ€™m not going to be picking shows. Thatâ€™s not what I do,â€ť he said.
"Images abound on mainstream TV of gang violence and 'gangsta' culture, reinforcing negative stereotypes that fuel racism and erode black self-esteem, especially among the young," he says in an e-mail. "Television teaches people who they are and what they could become.Â Young people forget, or never knew, the transformational impact of the series 'Roots' or 'The Cosby Show.' Johnson is to be applauded for recognizing thatÂ AmericaÂ is not â€“ yet â€“ post-racial."
Aspire also could provide an outlet forÂ programs or films written, produced, and directed by African-Americans, Johnson has said.Â
â€śWith today's technology it's easier than ever to produce films yet, when it comes to African-American filmmakers, unless you're Tyler Perry or one of the select few 'pop' culture filmmakers, there's almost no way to get your film on television,â€ť saysÂ Jasmyne Cannick, African-American community activist in Los Angeles,Â in an e-mail.
For his part, Combs appears to envision REVOLT as a sort-of MTV for the social-media age â€“ reinventing the nexus of music and television.Â
â€śREVOLT is the first channel created entirely from the ground up in this new era of social media,â€ť said Combs in a statement. â€śWeâ€™re building this platform for artists to reach an extraordinary number of people in a completely different way."Â
"REVOLT will be live, like all great moments in television history," he added. "REVOLT will also be immediate, like todayâ€™s social networks. We know it was a highly competitive process and we want to thank Comcast for this opportunity to truly change television with REVOLT.â€ť
Success is harder than ever to predict, given how rapidly the TV landscape is changing, says Porter Bibb ofÂ for Mediatech Capital Partners.Â Â Â Â
â€śThe broadcast environment is fragmenting, with far more networks than the average viewer could watch in a lifetime,â€ť Mr. Bibb says. â€śZeroing in on specific demographics with specific content may have worked 10, 15 years ago, but advertisers today have too many other options for ads that the advertiser knows reach a target customer, since he has to click on the ad to see it.â€ť
Others agree that the networks will have to do something unique and compelling to draw viewers.Â
SaysÂ Ms. Cannick:Â â€śIf these networks are going to succeed they are going to need to think outside of the box and come to the table with fresh ideas and not regurgitate or duplicate what their counterparts are doing, only with black faces.â€ťÂ