Comcast, NBCU Commit to Adding Independent Nets with Minority Backers
Companies announce series of diversity commitments ahead of June 7 House Judiciary hearing on proposed merger
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/7/2010 7:00:00 AM
"Today Comcast and NBCU are announcing commitments that represent an unprecedented level of dedication to diversity," said Paula Madison, execurtive VP, diversity, who is testifying at the hearing, which will be presided over by Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.)
The commitments include:
1) that Comcast will add at least three independent cable nets with "substantial [minority] ownership interest" over the next three years;
2) that they will establish four external advisory councils (together referred to as the Joint Council), one each for repesentatives of the African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander communities, and another for "other diverse communities," and
3) that they will spend at least $7 million more on advertising in minority-owned media next year.
The advisory councils will meet at least twice a year with Comcast execs, one of those meetings to include the chairman and CEO.
In a public interest statement submitted to the FCC, Comcast had already pledged to add at least two new independent networks per year for the next three years, but now the pledge is that half of those will be minority-run or controlled channels.
And there is much more. On the workforce diversity front, Comcast and NBCU have pledged to increase director-level representation of minorities' create minority focus groups to identify potential employees, create a boot-camp program for mid-level VP candidates with at least 80% of those diverse candidates, use search firms with a track record of identifying diverse candates.
NBC News will add three paid internships to the six it now gives to members of minority journalist organizations, and will commit to increase the diversity of executives in TV and film development, production and marketing.
The companies also pledged to increase their spending with minority-controlled suppliers with a nationwide goal of having a percentage of those suppliers equal to the percentage of minority-owned busineesses in the communities the companies serve.
The Peacock will also put its money where its beak is. Comcast has relationships with a number of minority-owned financial institutions. NBCU will be a depositor "where practicable."
As NBC has said before, it will also seek out a minority owner for KWHY Los Angeles, a Spanish-language independent it must either spin off or seek a wavier for (NBCU already owns two stations in the No. 2 market).
On the programming front, Comcast said it is committed to improving its track record in bringing diverse programming to its subs, not that it thinks its current track record is wanting. It has already launched a Black cinema On Demand VOD channel, plans this fall to lauch an Asian version, and said Monday that within a year of the deal's closing will launch a Hispanic version.
NBCU said it will double (to four) the number of networking events for diverse directors and writers with senior NBCU execs. In addition to continuing to fund diversity writer positions for the next three years on each of the scripted series on the NBC network and for its late-night programs, it will expand that program to a position on each scripted series on a NBCU cable net.
The companies will also increase their contributions to diverse communities, pledging to up their philanthropy to minority-led or supporting institutions by 10% per years for the next three years.
NBC's announcement came only hours before the panelists, including representatives from both companies, were slated to testify in the hearing, which was expected to focus on diversity issues.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a member of the committee, has expressed concerns about the companies' record on diversity issues. Last week, national groups of Black and Hispanic state legislators praised Comcast's record in comments at the FCC, which has just re-started its informal 180-day shot clock on the deal.
The companies also got an assist from Magic Johnson, who sent a letter to Conyers praising NBCU's focus on diversity and the deal (Johnson played basketball for Michigan State University in Conyers' home state). Conyers has praised Comcast's initial public interest commitments for the combined venture, though he has also suggested he would like to see a commitment to independent programming, access to sports programming, and "ensuring consumers still have access to their favorite shows online for minimal or no cost."
In the committee's first hearing on the deal back in February, a marathon affair of some five hours, Zucker and Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts defended their records on diversity, and in some cases pledged to do better, reiterated their pledges to keep NBC free and over the air, and their programming available to competitive distributors.
That hearing alternated between grillings about jobs, access to online content, and competitive pressures to favor their own content and the occasional rambling question, which helped push the morning hearing into mid-afternoon.
Conyers set the tone at the hearing with opening remarks full of concern about consolidation in general. He said he had been alarmed by the consolidation in the industry and that he thought the Justice Department's Antitrust Division had not been effective.
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