NAMIC’s opening general session on multi-ethnic programming Tues essentially was a microcosm of cable’s diversity situation: much progress is being made, but major gaps remain. On the positive side, Comcast’s programming investment chief Amy Banse noted a recent "awakening" to the ethnic success of satellite. The result is her company’s push to give viewers more choice (via virtual VOD channels) and dive into the multicultural programming area by acquiring International Channel Networks and hiring David Jensen as head of ethnic programming. Turner Ent pres Mark Lazarus pointed to the hiring of Sandra Weber to create and head multicultural marketing, "there’s a commitment to" diversity today we haven’t "had at our company for 30 years." Nick pres Cyma Zarghami said she requires her staff to interview 10-15 people of color yearly and keep a list of qualified minorities. Criticisms of a lack of diversity in the ’04 programming lineup from moderator Maria Hinojosa of CNN were batted back. "That’s a broadcast issue" Lazarus said. This is why cable’s moved ahead of broadcast, because its programming is diverse, Lifetime chief Carole Black said. "We live in a diverse country" and our programming "is for all women." Her most diverse (and best-rated) series "Strong Medicine" proves diversity works for the bottom line and attracts viewers, she said. "It’s a cultural malaise and a business malaise…that’s why the broadcasters are failing," Rainbow’s Josh Sapan said. TVOne’s Johnathan Rodgers was "very optimistic" about cable and satellite "getting its act together" in presenting more programming for African Americans, who are 10% of cable’s audience but generate 20% of the revenue. Yet questions from Hinojosa and more pointed ones from audience members were harder to answer. An audience member was applauded when he contrasted the positive tone of the panel with the perceived lack of upper-management opportunities for minorities. Black answered "sometimes you have to move" to another company if upward mobility isn’t available at your present employer, "I’ve had to do it myself," she said. And Rodgers decried the lower ad dollar value put on minority audiences. "Shame on all of us, myself included" for taking minority audiences for granted, he said. After noting the paucity of linear space, Banse said multicultural programming has the some of the best chances for carriage. Yet she admitted "we could probably do better" in terms of the diversity of the people at Comcast who hear pitches for multicultural programming. In addition, she was hard pressed to answer how niche programmers who were carried on virtual VOD channels by Comcast could generate the ad revenue that linear channels command. "I don’t necessarily have the answer…it’s an experiment." She later expressed confidence that advertisers will find a solution if niche programmers show they attract sufficient viewers. Hinojosa summed up the diversity picture: "I call it the U.S. mambo, 3 steps forward, 2 steps back."