I’m mad—really, really mad. I can’t believe I’m sitting here about to write something that by now should be a nonfactor in cable. It’s a little something called equal opportunity. Yet here I am, once again banging away at the keyboard like a fly against a windowpane. Equal opportunity is one of the tenets upon which this country was built. And yet it remains, inexplicably, as alien to many cable companies as blacksmiths and butter churns. Here we are in Atlanta, walking the floor looking for the next new programming concept, or the next new breakthrough in technology. But I am going to be doing something else as well. I’m going to be looking at the faces of those in power—the people running this industry—and noting, yet again, how few of them look like me. I bring this up because of the choking irony that we’re in Atlanta. You may not know this, but Atlanta has become home to, perhaps, the only booming branch of the otherwise stagnant music industry; namely hip-hop. As the unofficial hip-hop capital of the world, Atlanta boasts some of the most powerful business people in music. And unlike the middle-aged white guys in corner offices in New York and L.A., these powerful people are streetwise, young and black. It’s ironic because even though music and cable are entertainment industries, only one of them sees fit to let African-Americans run businesses. Both seem comfortable with having blacks as artists and, to a lesser extent, producers and directors. But while cable continues to mete out senior-level positions to minorities at a snail’s pace, the music business is being fueled—and some might argue saved—by young African-American entrepreneurs whose labels are redefining the business. And don’t think that hip-hop is just some gangster-laden urban phenomenon. The reason it’s the success it is has little to do with how many records the kids in the ghetto are buying. Hip-hop is a multibillion dollar business because white kids in the suburbs are buying CDs and downloading songs by the carload. Remember, as you’re walking the floor in Atlanta, that right outside the doors of the Georgia World Congress Center are some wildly successful businesses being run by young people who, if they were in the cable industry, just might be biding their time in middle management. A cable veteran who worked at BET and ESPN, Curtis Symonds is now COO of the Washington Mystics of the WNBA. He can be reached at curtissymonds@yahoo.com.

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