“I know what African Americans want and I will deliver,” NBA legend and super successful businessman Irving “Magic” Johnson told a packed room at the Newseum in Washington, DC last week while announcing his new network, Aspire, which will target African American professionals.
It’s easier said than done but the megastar has been able to triply monetize urban markets in a way mainstream businesses could never have imagined.
For example, he convinced Starbucks to franchise to him a 50/50 stake in a series of stores in Urban areas which he was able to make profitable and turn around and sell the 105 stores for $100Million in 2010 netting himself a 60% profit. Similarly, his Magic Johnson Theaters and other urban centered ventures have all done extremely well, considering that not enough would be willing to risk their money the same way in those neighborhoods.
But the TV market is a whole other kettle of fish.
He will have an uphill battle to make it work in a tough, challenging and rapidly evolving market. Joining him in the challenge is business mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs who will launch his Revolt music channel, SinCity director Robert Rodriguez who will create an English-language channel for 2nd and 3rd generation Latinos called El Rey and veteran Spanish-language broadcaster Constantino Schwartz who is creating Baby First Americas, targeting toddlers and young children growing up in dual Spanish-English American homes.
The four new independent channels will form the bulk of Comcasts’ new Voices lineup.
But as Oprah Winfrey has painfully learned with her struggling Oprah Winfrey Network, it will take more than a superior and notable brand and name to make a TV network succeed.
Similarly, African Americans will be looking for content beyond existing syndicated content, old movies and programs that they can find in existing networks Centric, BET and TV One. Likewise, Hispanic American audiences have been yearning for more beyond offerings available from nuvoTV, Galavision, HITN, Telemundo and Univision.
While those existing networks have been able to build a formula for success, Johnson will have to avoid the fate of other networks such as Bob Johnson’s infinitely stalled Urban Television network that never really got off the ground. Limited carriage stalled Willie Gary, Evander Holyfield and Robert Townsend’s Black Family Network from achieving much success before it was sold to the Gospel Music Channel in 2007. ColoursTV and Quincy Jones-backed New Urban Entertainment TV also struggled from lack of carriage.
Luckily, Johnson et al have Comcast backing. But so did J.C. Watts Jr., whose 24/7 Black News Channel also never saq the light of day.
Their success will have far-reaching implications on future ventures. Last week, house Republicans introduced a bill to drastically revamp the FCC including the way it approves mergers. Apparently, some do not approve of how mergers like the Sirius XM and Comcast/NBCUniversal mergers were approved upon conditions of the creation of new spin off channels for minorities. Those in favor of the conditional mergers argue dissenters just want to silence voices. In actuality, perhaps it is part of a move to lessen government regulation and restraints on businesses seeking to merge.
These new channels may need to be successful in order to prove to regulators and federal legislators that the conditions created to increase programming diversity for underserved audiences are indeed worth it. Only time, the bottom line and ratings will tell.