Two things happened a few weeks ago that got me thinking. In a strange way, one was related to the other, so bear with me. First, I read about the proposed Comcast/Disney deal and that Brian Roberts said he wanted to get deeper into the content business. That started my thought train. What sort of content provider would Comcast be? I mean, Comcast is a terrific operator, but what does that have to do with making movies and staging Broadway shows? Then the second thing happened. I was at the NBA All Star game in L.A., watching as one portion of the African-American experience got celebrated, complete with all glitz and bling you would expect. It was a hip-hop dream; a basketball game with a mind-numbing 44 dunks and a half-time show with enough booty-shaking to launch a rap music network. And there, taking it all in a few seats from me, was NBA Commissioner David Stern. I watched Stern’s face as singer Beyonc� was lowered to the floor of the Staples Center. I watched him sit nervously through her halftime gyrations. Stern was smiling, but his eyes betrayed him. Given the fiasco at the Super Bowl, he seemed concerned over how Beyonc�’s not-so-subtle act would play on national television. So what do these two things have to do with one another? I’m not sure, but I have a sense. I do know, for example, that Comcast wants to be a major content provider. And I know that the NBA already is. I also know that Comcast and the NBA are run by two very astute white guys. But here’s my sense: my gut tells me Brian Roberts and David Stern, two businessmen who run great companies, view African-Americans more as talent than they do as viewers. I know what you’re thinking; Comcast just launched TV One. Granted, and I’ll give Brian props for that. But the network is only a few weeks old. Let’s see if TV One evolves into a network for and about blacks, or simply becomes just another bone thrown to the African-American marketplace by a media company whose top decision-makers are mostly white and male. Look, I’ve been in this industry long enough to know how things are done. I’ve seen a lot of programming concepts fly because a small group of white men made a decision based on their personal tastes. Don’t get me wrong. For a while that setup worked just fine. Cable networks were first developed like sections of a newspaper, and it didn’t take a deep understanding of the marketplace to do that. But the days of broad niches are over. The idea of a local system offering one African-American network or one Hispanic one is a disservice to both the operator and its customers. If MSOs really want to reflect the markets they serve they must come to understand that such distinctions as "Black" and "Latino" are now so broad they lack any meaning. It is time for this industry to look more deeply at the cultural diversity of the marketplace and to wake up and face its reality. It’s also time for both operators and programmers to realize that the best way to achieve programming diversity is to diversify the decision-makers. And lastly, it’s time for content providers to come to grips with the fact that blacks are just as important to them as buyers than they are as sellers, if not more so. Sure, brothers slamming and sisters shaking may make great video. But Symonds says such content no more represents the broad spectrum of the African-American marketplace than do pick-up trucks or pro wrestling represent people like Brian Roberts and David Stern. Curtis Symonds can be reached at 202.321.6621.

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