Time Warner Gets with the Program (Part 1)

World's Largest Media Company Tests the Diversity Waters

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Jonathon Feit Jonathon Feit
Last week's Here! television HIV/AIDS awareness celebration was a bit of an odd affair. Held at the grandiose Academy of Television Arts and Science in L.A.'s North Hollywood neighborhood, the event drew a varied cross-section of activists, sympathizers, and beneficiaries of outreach to the GLBT community.

(It would have been nice if even a single one of the high-profile kudos recipients who all make such a to-do about their passion for HIV/AIDS advocacy--Hello, Queen Latifah! Hello, Jamie Foxx! Hello, Ashley Judd! Hello, Salma Hayek!--had shown up to the event. But I digress...)

My date actually made an interesting comment worth noting: HIV/AIDS is by no means a "gay disease," no matter what the billboard above Sunset Boulevard (PDF) says, and painting it as such as counterproductive.

Still, the stereotypical association between HIV and the gay community persists -- a generality unfortunately fueled by a higher incidence within the GLBT community than other American communities. Which makes it intriguing and unexpected that HBO was honored for its film "Life Support," which was produced by Latifah, Foxx, biographer Marcus King and other headliners.

HBO is a unit of Time Warner, and Time Warner -- the world's largest media company -- conspicuously lacks even a single division dedicated to engaging the gay community. It doesn't even have a single GLBT-focused magazine in its entire roster of 125 magazines. That may be barely excusable for Hearst -- which is a private company, and maintains some of its namesake W.R. Hearst's political conservatism -- but Time Warner is public: it just looks neglectful.

Slow-and-steady, however, that trend may be changing. Time Warner finally seems interested in courting minority audiences in general -- not just a gay one -- following years of expanding beyond WASP-y, highfalutin, largely educated audiences. Consider the company's magazine portfolio: Time, Fortune, Southern Living, Money, Sunset and so on.

There was Suede, a short-lived flash-burn attempt in 2004 to build an urban woman's fashion magazine. The year after that debacle, Time Inc. (Time Warner's magazine unit) acquired the whole of Essence Communications from industry legend Ed Lewis. Essence has represented a paragon of black social and economic mobility -- marked by fashion, style, and grace -- for nearly 37 years; Lewis and Time Inc. have been business partners since 2000.

Now, it seems the GLBT community has worked its way into Time Warner's heart, and either gained powerful allies at the top of the corporate pyramid or else someone clued the company's marketing executives in about the group's economic power, which recently topped $690 billion.

Besides releasing the film "Life Support," within the past year Time Warner Cable -- the conglomerate's largest division, and one of its most profitable -- added a high-profile "Here On-Demand" button to its lucrative On-Demand services page. The inclusion gives Time Warner Cable premium subscribers the ability to watch Here content anytime.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be seeking interviews with executives from Here, Time Warner, and Time Warner Cable to shed light on the company's about-face from a conspicuous omission of GLBT engagement, to playing a game of catch-up with itself to engage this still-chronically underserved community. I'll be eager to report on (and link to) those interviews in this space.

Nevertheless, as interesting as the companies' logic would be, and for all the spouting-off we do here (for good reason!) about the importance of tolerance and diversity in thought as well as in deed, Time Warner's outreach to the GLBT community -- vis-à-vis HBO, Time Warner Cable, and perhaps in subtler ways -- calls to mind something that Justin Nelson, co-founder and president of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce once told me:

It matters far less what companies' motivations are -- be they political, ideological, commercial, or just plain opportunistic -- beneath their decision to make inclusiveness official policy-in-practice. Most important is that they do so.
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