By Ron Busby
As much television as Black folks watch, we should keep our eye on the proposed acquisition of Time Warner by Comcast a whole lot closer than anyone else.
You know as well as I that we watch more television than any other demographic and are more likely to get our news from TV than anywhere else. We consume hours and hours of pure entertainment, so much that marketers are targeting Black audiences with an endless stream of reality shows. (That those shows are far from real is beside the point). Sports, music, and docudramas fill the rest of our mass consumption of television programming, and there seems to be no end to the current trend.
What does this have to do with the Comcast/Time Warner deal? Everything. The Comcast/Time Warner deal, reportedly valued at more than $45 billion, would give the cable giant Comcast more than a third of all cable homes in the U.S. The fact that the bulk of those customers will reside in 19 of the 20 largest U.S. cities is an indication of the value that Black consumers contribute to making this deal work.
So far, there is no indication that either Comcast or Time Warner has given any thought to the quid pro quo relationship implicit between the new company and Black consumers of they will serve. Besides, no attention has been given to the availability of new, positive programming. There are no assurances of employment opportunities, or –even worse – very little, if any, discussion of contracting opportunities for Black-owned enterprises interested in doing business with the new company. Surely, any company that can spend $45 billion to acquire the assets (customers) of another company can figure out a way to carve out opportunities for their largest customer base.
If you need some indication of their awareness of how valuable Black customers are to their deal, TV One, BET, OWN and other content providers targeting Black consumers are not included in basic subscriptions. That means to get the kind of programming Black consumers are hungry for, viewers must upgrade to premium subscriptions. That means a larger monthly cable bill. In other words, if not for Black consumers and the rate we watch television, this deal would be dead in the water.
To be clear, the United States Black Chambers has not taken a position on whether the Comcast acquisition of Time Warner is good or bad for the industry. But there is no doubt in our mind about the value of Black consumers to the deal. We watch more television than any other group. We subscribe to more cable television than any other group. But we probably get less return on our investment than any other group.
This pattern is not limited to cable TV. The same can be said of automobile manufacturing, distilled beverages, clothing retailers and many other industries. Without Black consumers, many businesses would be flat-lining, or worse, out of business.
Congress is conducting hearings on the proposed merger of the two largest cable television companies in America. Some early opposition focuses on whether the combined companies would be essentially a monopoly. There’s early talk about the new company being “too big to fail,” the negative description that grew out of the recent banking crisis.
But we have heard little, if anything, about companies owned by Cathy Hughes, Oprah Winfrey, Sean Combs and Magic Johnson and others offering African American programming content being consulted.
It would seem that any company that relies as heavily on Black consumers as do cable television companies, that company would work harder to offer content targeting their best customers at the basic level. At the very least, African American companies that produce programming for Black audiences should be treated like the valuable partners that they are to the industry. Without their content output, Black cable subscribers have fewer reasons to stay tuned. And if Black subscribers are not tuned in, there’s no real market for a $45 billion cable company.
Ron Busby, Sr. is president and CEO of U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. For more information, go to http://www.usblackchamber.org.