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While it might take a minute to recall, there was a time in America when there was no Black Entertainment Television (BET), Music Television (MTV), Home Box Office (HBO) or pay-per-view. But in less than 20 years, these mainstays of cable television have helped the basi and pay-cable industry completely revolutionize the way te world watches television. Not only has the cable industry grown from $2.5 billion in revenues in 1980 to $20.4 billion in 1991, but it has made multimillionaires out of precient, young entrepreneurs and peppered the executive suites of majorr communications companies with savvy, talented black executives.

Thus explosive growth has been fueled by choice: cable's trump card in the pinochle game of television. Unlike the traditional networks ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, cable offers something for everyone: 24-hour news and weather reports from around the world; clothes and jewelry on sale at 2 a.m.; live concerts from Rio de Janeiro and championships boxing matches from Las Vegas; classic movies starring Lena Horne and new movies on Josephine Baker; music videos by Patti LaBelle and college basketball games from Florida A & M. Just touch your remote control and your window to the world opens up wider than ever before.

Cable's flexibility and popularity allowed it to siphon viewers and profits away from the "free TV" networks during the 1980s. And as the cable networks' revenues increased and thier audiences grewm they began attracting the best and brightest executive and creative talent. Men and women who once set their sights solely on jobs at television networks and Hollywood film studios are realizing that the continually developing cable industry offers much more in terms of opportunity, growth and job experience. While salaries are not yet equal among the three--the salaries of a marketing vice president at a film studio, a television network and a cable company can differ by as much as $100,000 per year--the opportunities for being recognized are better in cable than in almost any other area of the entertainment industry. And this holds true even though cable's rate of expansion has slowed.

The halcyon days of cable growth may be over, but opportunities abound and will probably expand even more if telephone companies are allowed into the cable mix. One of the key issues and biggest developments for cable in the 1990s will be the use of telephone wires to transmit television programming via fiber optics. Last October, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously endorsed a proposal that would permit local telephone companies to package and transmit television programming. At press time, the measure was awaiting public comment and final ratification.

If the measure is approved, analysts estimate that it will take 10 years and approximately $400 billion for the phone companies to bring television programming into every home in America. The results will be better picture quality, additional channel availability and a plethora of in-home services like shopping, banking and educational programming. Consumer cable television bills might be lowered as well.

The cable industry opposes letting telephone companies into the business because it would mean increased competition that may force some players out of the increasingly crowded cable market. But the impending fusion of television, computers and telephones represents perhaps the biggest communications revolution since television was invented in the 1940s. It also represents an opportunity for the cable industry to expand yet again--and black cable executives are encouraging others to begin positioning themselves to play a big part in that expansion.

"Although it's true that the 'explosion' aspect of the cable industry has already happened, there is still a great deal of career potential and entrepreneurial opportunity in all aspects of this business--from operating systems, to advertising and marketing, to programming to technology," says Thomas E. McKinney, president and CEO of Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau Inc. (CAB). The 49-year-old McKinney is one of the most influential men in the business, and as head of CAB, he stresses the advantages of cable television as an advertising medium for both national and local consumer products. He notes that in the past 10 years, cable advertising has grown from $230 million to more than $3 billion annually. And industry forcasters believe cable advertising will reach $5.3 billion by 1995--sales that cannot be ignored.

"Cable is still percieved as the hot new kid on the block," says McKinney. "If a newcomer works hard to become educated in the business, seizes every opportunity that becomes available, and networks his butt off, he or she can grow in this industry."

The Start Of Something Big

Following the end of World War II, cable was developed as a television signal enhancer for remote areas of the country, and for cities like New York, where tall buildings blocked the broadcast signals that were trasmitted to rooftop antennas. Once it was established that wires or "cables" could successfully carry a clear television signal anywhere and everywhere the franchise business of contracting with a city lay down the wires and charge a montyly fee to consumers began to grow.

In the early 1970s, a cable subscriber could theoritically receive 36 to 48 channels; today the norm is 96, and by 1995, it will be 156 channels. In 1973, Home Box Office Inc. innaugurated a cable channel that showed recent, full-length, commercial-free movies for a "premium" fee (usually an additional $10 to 12$ per month). This was the first true pay-television nerwork. Other premium channers, such as Showtime and The Disney Channel, would follow.

Since one of the benefits of cable television was the increased channel capacity it offered, even more channels and networks with specialized programs developed. Music Television (MTV), owned by Viacom International Inc., kicked off August 1981 with 24-hours of music videos. It is considered a basic cable network service, since subscribes don't pay additional fees to receive it. Robers Johnson started BET as a basic network in January 1980 by offering black-oriented music videos for two hours every Friday. When the now 24-hour BET made its first public stock offering in November 1991 (see "Black Businesses Woo Hungry Investors," May 1992), the company's worth was set at $55.1 million.

A Wide Pool Of Talent

Cable television has allowed experience executives to parlay their entrepreneurial spirit into success at large existing organizations. Thomas D. Broadwater Jr., 34, was a relatively unhappy attorney who had worked in radio and television when his friend, Bradley P. Holmes, U.S. coordinator and director of the Bureau of International Communications and Information Policy, told him about the Walter Kaitz Foundation (see sidebar, "Getting Connected"). After interviewing with several cable companies, the Columbia, South Carolina, native joined Boston-based Continental Cablevision to head up its new subsidiary, Cable Network Advertising Services (CNAS is now called Continental Cablebision Advertising). The subsidiary sells local cable advertising spots to Chicago-area businesses. Building from 1989 sales revenues of $950,000, Broadwater, who overseas five offices and a staff of 26 salespeople and video producers, has grown the business to a projected $3.5 million in sales for 1992.

"I was attracted to cable because if offered me an opportunity to be a leader," he explains. "I went to law school and business school with a lot of talented people, but it's not too oten that you get a shot at a cutting-edge job in a growing industry."

While Brodwater's chance to be a youthful business leader may be atypical, has path into the cable arena cerainly was not. He had no plans and made no special preparations to enter this burgeoning field, which is something that seems to hold true for many of the top black executives in the industry.

Men and women from every background have joined the cable crusade. Some have law degrees or MBAs, others started their careers in marketing and advertising. Still others worked at radio and television stations as announcers or operators.

USA Nerwork Senior Vice President, affiliate relations, Douglas V. Holloway was a former product manager at General Foods Inc. He has a MBA from Columbia University and spent some time at Time Inc.'s Cable Week magazine before moving to USA. Now Holloway oversees a staff of 28, including six national and regional vice presidents who report to him on USA's sales and marketing activity at the affiliate or local level. The 15-year-old network, which is owned by Paramount and MCA and is valued at between $750 million and $1 billion, has 11,000 affiliates, which broadcast to 58 million subscribers.

USA has presented the 37-year-old Holloway with many challenges, opportunities and rewards that give him great insight on how to advance in the business. "It's been difficult for blacks to advance in the cable industry," says Holloway, "The casualties far outweigh the advances. Yet every area of cable offers opportunity to minorities. It takes a lot of trial ad error...There's no magic formula. You just have to find a horse, then try to ride it."

Holloway also underscores how important a company's commitment to affirmative action plays in minority advancement. He gives particular credit to USA President and CEO Kay Koplovitz, adding that, "I'm somewhat of an example of that--she stresses the importance of minority employment."

Moving Up The Ranks

Gayle Greer, the highest-ranking black woman at a cable company, is a quintessential mentor. She is both office and group vice president, national division, of the second-largest cable system in the country, Denver-based American Telecommunication Corp. (ATC). Greer oversees operations at ATC's 25 cable operators in the Midwest. Her department of more than 350 employees brings in $95 million in revenues annually. The executive has been at ATC for almost 14 years, and says the senior vice president who hired her, proved that mentioning can be valuable for a young executive's career.

"I had a master's degree in social work and was working as executive director of Fort Wayne, Indiana's Urban League, trying to get minorities invilved in cable franchising, when ATC approached me about a job. I knew virtually nothing about the cable industry," she recalls. "The timing was excellent, though. [Cable] was an emerging young industry and lots of folks were being hired at that time. Luckily, David Kinley, the guy who hired me, took an interest in may career and guided me by identifying various political and business relationships that proved key to my develepment."

Even with her degree and Urban League credentials, Greer started at a low-level job, recruiting cable franchises in different cities so that ATC could build its cable operating system. While there were no minority officers at ATC, she realized that the bottom-level training she was getting would teach her how the cable business really operates, and would help her to grow right along with it. There were five other blacks hired with her, and she is the only one of that group left at ATC. "I had the experience of what it's like to work in a 'man's world' while I was working in Indiana. In fact, the first time I became aware of sexism was from my black brothers at the Urban League," she says. "When I got into cable, it was rougher and more intimidating, but it wasn't something totally new. I advise everyone I talk to--especially black women--to make sure you understand what you want from this business and to have a lot of inner strngth, or it will chew you up. When I was in granchising, I went into offices and was asked to leave the room because the guy I was scheduled to meet with refused to deal with a black woman."

Harsh realities such as these make Greer determined to help others climb the ladder to cable's corporate boardrooms. "I just brought in two black women to handle marketing and customer service in the Indiana area, and one of them is definitely on her way," Greer says. "There are definitely management opportunities in this business for minorities. Sometimes it helps, rather than hinders, to be black and a woman. It certainly helped me coming in."

After 11 years in purchasing and advertising personnel at Procter & Gamble and four years as an account supervisor at the New York-based Ogilby & Mather advertising agency, LaVida Dowdell-Cammon moved to the cable industry. She began in 1989 as director of trade marketing for Showtime Networks Inc., where she handled advertising programs, advertising support and sales support for the network's affiliates. Today, as Showtime's vice president of advertising and field marketing, she develops consumer and trade advertising and oversees five employees and a seven-figure budget.

As the only black woman at the executive level in the company, Dowdell- Cammon acknowledges that at times she feels "extremely visible." But she says her confidence in her own ability helps her deal with the uncomfortable realities of advancement that may be harder for some to ignore.

"I've felt confindent all along that I could do a good job, and that goes a long way in allowing you to ignore whatever glass ceiling is said to exist. I can understand, though, how a black man's radar goes up quicker than mine when the' glass ceiling' or 'advancement' discussion begins," says the 39-year old Dowdell-Cammon. "I always thish of how something could be done better, and never think that anyone wouldn't want me to have the job or the assignment. I've alwas thought I was qualified for whatever assignment I was up for."

While opportuinities exist in the franchising, operations, affiliate and the customer sevices side of cable television, the areas with the greatest visibility and stiffest competition are programming and marketing. There are more than 30 basic cable and a dozen entertainment/sports or premium cable networks. Each employs scores of production, programming, advertising and marketing executives. However, the number of black cable industry executives in decision-making positions can be counted on your fingers.

Dennis Johnson, Showtime Nerwork Inc.'s senior vice president, programming, West Coast, has one of the most poerful and ingluential jobs in cable television. Johnson, 45, oversees the many scripts and ideas that are submitted to Showtime on a daily basis by producers, agents and writers. His recommendation or refusal can mean life or death for a project. Once a project is approved or 'greenlighted,' hw is involved in hiring writers, making casting suggestions and approvals and guiding the production to its final stages.

Johnson's presence at Showtime underscores the contributions that can be made by an executive with a different point of view. "When I'm at the table and we're casting a movie or series an the script says 'television host' and doesn't specify a race or background, I'll make casting suggestions from a colorblind point point of view. Believe me, if the adjective 'black' is not there in the description of the character, the rest of the room will immediately start thinking of white performers only. What I do is creats an awareness just by showing up."

Johnson, who joined Showtime in 1984 and was promoted to his current position in 1990, is also a rarity in the cable industry because he started his career in television as an NBC Television page while attending UCLA in the early 1970s. He too had a mentor, Bob Finkel, an independent producer of variety shows for the network. With Finkel advising him, he began to rise through the NBC production department first as an associate producer, then into the programming department. After moving over to ABC in 1975, he quickly became vice president of variety programs.

A key move for Johnson came when he left ABC to become senior vice president of the Osmond Television Co. (Yes, that's Donny and Marie.) That was right around the time cable television began its meteoric growth period, and in 1984, he moved over to Showtime to become the network's director of current programming. Some questioned why Johnson moved from his position as senior vice president to a position as a director (less than a vice president in other industries). But Johnson didn't hesitate.

"One of the problems with blacks advancing in the creative side of cable--especially black men--has been a general unwillingness to take an entry- level job as an assistant or secretary, because it's not worthy of their MBA or law degree," Johnson explains. "But the bottom line is to get in where you can, doing whatever you can. This holds true for the entertainment industry in general. There is an established system of paying your dues, and everbody--black or white, with or without a degree, with or without a family connection--has to go through it."

Cable And Diversity

Johnson's many years in the broadcasting and cable industries have given him a bird's-eye view on the changes that have taken place, and not all of them have been positive. When he started at NBC in the early 1970s, there were three black men in the executive ranks of that network's programming department. Today there are none. The new, 1990s generation of industry decision-makers are much more consevative than in the past. The recession has made white male executives more leery of "job-hopping" when looking to advance. And that has translated into]] head-to-head competition for promotions with blacks and other minorities.

"Black executives at cable companies face the same kinds of pressures that white executives face, especially in these recessionary times," notes Paula Parisi, cable television editor at the Hollywood Reported, a trae newspaper for the entertainment industry. "People are not advancing as quieckly or switching jobs as readily, so the chances for advancement--for making over your superior's job because he or she has moved into another job--are not as available as before."

As a hedge against a loss of executive-level job possibilities for minorities, Showtime's chairman and CEO Winston "Tony" Cox has created a "committee for diversity," and Johnson is one of the co-chairs. Cox outlined his commitment to minority hiring when he gave the keynote address, "Diversity and the Competitive Edge," at the National Association of Minorities In Cable conference last September. "When all levels of a company see that the leadership is concerned with certain issues," explains Johnson, "that concern filters from the top on down. Tony believes we should make a difference because it's the right thing to do."

Doing the right thing also extends to programming decisions. Since cable operators are responsible for choosing which networks will air in their franchise area, they have great influence in determining the diversity of the programming their viewers will see.

L. Patrick Mellon, vice president of programming for TeleCable Corp., the 19th largest cable operator in the country, has made sure that he has included the BET network on 17 of the 22 systems he operates in the Southeast and Midwest. "Being black gives me a greater sensitivity to black programming, but that's not the sole reason BET is in our systems," he says. "It's there because they have a viewership and an appeal that rivals that of any other cable network."

For Julius "Jay" Suber, one of the founders of Kent State University"s nonviolent Black United Students organization, maintaining diversity of thought within the industry is important. During the turbulent 1960s, he cut his teeth as the national news editor at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati and as a writer/producer at WCAU, the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia. Today, as vice president and executive producer, features programming for Cable News Network (CNN), Suber controls a multimillion-dollar budget and oversees a staff of 60 producers, writers, directors and others. He joined CNN in 198a, and as an executive producer, placed his stamp on "CNN Week in Review," and "CNN Newsroom," a children's news program seen in more than 23,000 schools. By 1988 he had won two top awards from the Interational Film and Television Festival of New York.

"The opportunities for minorities in the cable industry are immense," says Suber. "This businss needs people with vision, ideas and creativity. Ideas can be worth billions of dollars, and they don't restrict themselves solely to the minds of white males."

Suber also believes that anyone who wants to become successful in the cable industry should learn the business, especially the politics of it. "It's crucial that a person finds our what he wants to do," he says. "You're challenged to step out ahead of the pack, and say, 'I want this, and I am willing to work hard for it.' A lot of younger people want things handed to them."

A Network For the Future

Because cable is a young industry, black have been able to develop new ways of solving problems and new ways of doing business. Most of cable's top black executives are relatively young. It's hard to find someone over 50 years old, even at the most senior levels of the industry. These young black executives have formed the equivalent of an "old boy network," which is proving valuable in today's politically charged cable industry. "There is a very close knit group of black executives in both the programming and the operations areas who have been in the industry about 10 years or so, and we're extremely supportive of one another," says ATC's Greer.

The network is definitely working, and CAB's McKinney notes that it was the first thing he loved about the business. "When I started, I found folks that you could call and say, 'I'm a new person in this industry,' and they'd say, 'When can we get together for lunch?'" he says. "We constantly stay in touch, bounce ideas off one another, share problems and rewards, and help and advise one another. A network like that helps you stay in the pipeline."

USA's Holloway believes a focal point of the network has been the National Association of Minorities In Cable (NAMIC), of which he is the chairman. "We, as black executives, have also been able to cross over into the mainstream of the established 'old boy network' in cable," he says. "It's something we had to do--remember, the base level for getting ahead is the same, whether you're green, black or blue."

Cable is growing and changing and should offer a myriad of opportunities for anyone with the stamina to push ahead. A recent report by the New York-based Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency points out that even in these recessionary times, "The [cable] industry can a least take comfort in the fact that it has held up better than virtually every other television segment in the current downturn. In fact, the cable business looks pretty darn good. Perhaps 'the best of times' are not that far off after all."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:black executives in cable television
Author:Vaughn, Christopher
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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