As the cable industry heads to Atlanta this month for the National Show, I thought long and hard about what seed I’d like to plant in the minds of operators and programmers as they prepare for the show. What I came up with may sound self serving, given that I, as you may have noticed, am an African American. But let me share it with you anyway. For all this industry’s remarkable innovations in programming, we have done a remarkably half-baked job catering to Black America. For an industry built on niche networks and non-linear content, we’ve really dropped the ball in reaching out to an underserved minority. Do you know what the problem is? Contrary to a widely held opinion, there is no such thing as Black America. There is no single mindset, no single belief, no single ethnic characteristic that we all share. We are as different as White America, and in some ways even more so. Look, I know networks like Spike, Lifetime, Great American Country and Bravo are not programmed solely for whites, but the fact of the matter is white viewers comprise a large percentage of their respective audiences. And does anyone for a moment question how incredibly different those largely white audiences are? Why then, has this industry failed to embrace the concept that African Americans represent just as complex and varied a market? We are as different in our tastes as we are in the shades of our skin tone. You think we all like hip hop? Or that we all respond to shows with shaking booties and bling? Sure, some African Americans live for rap and love the hip hop lifestyle. Just as many like jazz, Motown, reggae or blues. Many more seek refined, thought-provoking programming. Music is just one point of differentiation. This subtle gradation of blackness also applies to history, culture, cooking and the arts. I’ve not even touched upon the differences in age. As someone who understands the basic tenets of marketing, do you really think that teenage and retired African Americans belong in the same demo group? Or that they’d be even remotely interested in the same type of television content? In this digital age, why do operators feel that by offering BET, TV One, or Black Family Channel that they’ve fulfilled their obligation to the typical African American viewer? Especially when, as I’ve just detailed, no such thing exists? As you head to Atlanta this month, I urge you to consider that. And when the time comes to put your money and creativity behind a new programming concept, I urge you to think about revisiting a massive slice of the consuming public you honestly but mistakenly believe is already being served. Symonds says, if you’re looking for new revenue from an old place, remember there is a multi-billion dollar market out there hungry for more than you’re giving them; a market as complex as the vast and not-so-subtle differences between Maya Angelou, Snoop Dogg and yours truly. Curtis Symonds can be reached at curtissymonds@yahoo.com.

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