For Comcast, celebrating African-American culture at the local level is smart business—and not just in February. Some other cable operators don’t seem to be in the mood to brag about their Black History Month initiatives. By Simon Applebaum The fact that last month’s Golden Globe Awards were held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn’t lost on comedian Chris Rock. "Relax," he told Globe gatherers before presenting an award around 10 p.m. "You only have to be nice to black people for two more hours." Fortunately, most cable operators spend far more than two hours crafting campaigns geared toward Black History Month, which began Feb. 1. Their motivation to participate in a national celebration of African-American culture stems from their social conscience and business interests. For some systems, the business imperative is retaining black subscribers by demonstrating affinity for community issues and organizations. For others, the main purpose is to attract new African-American subscribers. Yet we found several operators lacked plans for Black History Month or were unwilling to share them with us. Black Family Channel marketing/promotions VP Lisa Morgan believes "operators need to let their subscribers know they care, so they want their marketing to highlight issues that impact their viewers or show how the system is involved in the community." BHM Comes Early Indeed, a positive development is that some systems are starting their Black History Month campaigns early. Partnering with TV One, Comcast systems in and around Harrisburg, Pa., co-sponsored a gala Jan. 13 organized by the Harrisburg mayor’s office. The gala served as an overture to a series of black cultural events in the state capital scheduled throughout February. Charter St. Louis didn’t wait until February to partner with African-American programmers. The system invited BET to be an exhibitor at the Get Hooked on Health Expo, which Charter co-presented in St. Louis in early January. As part of the network’s "A Healthy BET" campaign, which addresses minority health disparities with a focus on chronic obesity among African-Americans. "We very much appreciated Charter’s support in partnering with BET and BET Foundation to deliver our pro-social initiative, A Healthy BET," says Lynda Dorman, executive director of the BET Foundation. "We couldn’t have done it without them." Comcast’s Local Push As cable’s largest MSO, Comcast is often cited as an example for the rest of the industry. In terms of Black History Month, the example it sets is worthy of emulation. Comcast views Black History Month as an opportunity to showcase how cable operators can make a difference with audiences of color, while at the same time gaining an advantage over DBS and other competition, Payne Brown, the MSO’s strategic initiatives VP, says. "Diversity is a 365-day issue, and we should be reaching out to various communities every day we can," he adds. Cleverly, Comcast encourages its systems to devise local campaigns for Black History Month, instead of dictating a national strategy. This way the systems are able to incorporate local themes or events. In addition, systems are encouraged to become involved in Comcast’s national efforts during Black History Month, such as the MSO’s co-sponsorship of a tour featuring gospel music star Yolanda Adams, who made a show-stopping appearance at a NAMIC/WICT breakfast at the Western Show a few years ago. Comcast also invites its systems to utilize in their local campaigns promotional support from African-American nets including TV One, which Comcast partially owns. Uncertain Numbers The picture for Black History Month is not completely satisfactory, though. Of the many people interviewed for this article, none could quantify how campaigns for Black History Month influence the bottom line. But the outcome of a recent marketing effort gives Comcast’s Brown confidence that operators going after new subs can do well. More than 100 African-Americans in Atlanta became Comcast users after signing up for service at a concert by jazz vocalist/pianist Rachelle Ferrell that was sponsored by the MSO. "We’re planning to have space at the Yolanda concerts this month where people can order service," Brown adds. The six-month-old Africa Channel has just two cable affiliates—Cox systems in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. At press time, the systems were close to landing a deal to co-stage a major Black History Month event. If it happens, "this event will be big and involve a prominent organization," Africa Channel EVP/GM Bob Reid says. But Cox declined to talk about its system marketing for Black History Month, including the situation in Louisiana. In an e-mail to CableWORLD, Cox noted that it’s conducting internal research on African-American marketing as part of a review of its overall multicultural marketing strategy. Silence Is Not Golden Several other MSOs, including Time Warner, Charter, Cablevision and Insight Communications, did not provide comment on Black History Month plans or did not answer inquiries for information. Bright House Networks’ Birmingham, Ala., system will join other operators in holding screenings this month of TV One’s special about the late founder of Ebony and Jet magazines, The John H. Johnson Story, according to TV One. National Urban League and NAACP chapter officials will be invited to each screening, says George Lima, TV One’s director of affiliate marketing. Operators will receive space at the event to demonstrate digital, high-speed and other advanced services. Meantime, Bright House systems in Orlando and Tampa have no plans to hold Black History Month campaigns, a company official said. Vignette Bonanza One way African-American cable channels are encouraging operators to make the most of Black History Month, whether they run local outreach or not, is to produce one or two-minute interstitials suited to appear during local cross-channel avails. That way, operators can pull in sponsorship revenue from national and local advertisers running BHM campaigns of their own. BET’s contribution to the vignette fair is "Make the Connection," a set of nine spots showing how black entertainment figures of the past and present intersect. For example, connecting Hattie McDaniel, the first black American actress to win a best supporting Academy Award (for Gone With the Wind) with Halle Berry, the first to win a best actress Oscar (for Monster’s Ball). Pop star Alicia Keys co-hosts the spots with BET talent Big Tigger. Three sets of vignettes are available from Black Family Channel for operators to use in local ad sales—"Living in the Black," which focuses on personal finance; "This Day in Our History," spotlighting incidents in the lives of notable African-Americans, and "Mogul Minutes," a look at famous African-American business, sports and entertainment celebrities geared to kids. All three interstitial productions also will run during national ad breaks on Black Family; State Farm Insurance is sponsoring "Living in the Black," while Verizon has segment time on "This Day in Our History." Operators have two vignette series from TV One to use in their Black History Month efforts. One is "Did You Know?", offering factoids on prominent African-Americans from author Maya Angelou to inventor Frederick Jones. The other is "Get the 411," an advice interstitial covering health, food, home decorating and money topics.