TV hashing out its minority problems

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The four major broadcast networks are beefing up their minority hiring initiatives in response to harsh criticism and threats from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The organization challenged the networks' 1999-2000 fall line-up of programs due to the lack of minority actors in lead roles.

"We saw that in the past there were efforts of the networks to diversify, but their plans were always left by the wayside," NAACP President-CEO Kweisi Mfume says.

A study released last summer by the NAACP showed that 62% of African-Americans and 63% of Latinos surveyed believe that TV entertainment shows do not represent them accurately.

"You get into trouble when you call it an ethnic marketing issue," Jon Mandel, co-managing director, Grey Advertising's MediaCom, New York says. "There's a reason we call it broadcast. You want to appeal to a wide swathe of consumers, no matter what their race or or beliefs are. The broadcasters have not been broad or inclusive enough."

The issue came to a head in January, when the NAACP, after six months of talks, reached agreements on minority hiring with ABC and NBC. CBS and Fox each followed with agreements with NAACP, National Latino Media Council, Asian-Pacific American Media Coalition and American Indians in Film and TV.

NBC also tapped Paula Madison, VP-news at NBC-owned WNBC-TV, New York, to add the title of VP-diversity. CBS and Fox are expected to fill similar positions.

CBS plans to appoint a senior VP-diversity executive to coordinate hiring initiatives. The position will report directly to Leslie Moonves, president-CEO.


Doug Herzog, who is in his first season overseeing programming as president of Fox Entertainment Group, sees the diversity initiatives at all the networks as a long-needed shift in the right direction.

"It's good for business," Mr. Herzog says. "We want to stay in touch with the diverse audience that we have always been seeking."

Fox's plans call for the addition of a VP to implement diversity initiatives, he says. Specific efforts to hire more minority employees and work with more minority creative partners will be outlined once the post is filled.

"I don't see it as changing the environments that we are putting our ads in," Mr. Herzog says. "It's an evolution, not a revolution."

NAACP has committed $500,000 to open a Hollywood bureau to continue to work with the networks, Mr. Mfume says, and will review the agreements twice each year. In the near future the bureau will look at the diversity standing of UPN and WB, as well as several cable networks, he says.

NBC's initiatives include increasing deals with minority-owned production companies, hiring more minorities throughout the company and bolstering scholarship and training programs. The network also plans to fund an additional writing position for every second-year show for the 2000-01 season.

"NBC places a high priority on serving the three A's of network TV: audience, affiliates and advertisers," says Scott Sassa, NBC West Coast president. "We feel that we've done a good job of including a diverse blend of characters in our current series, and that has helped bring about an increase in viewership for this season. Looking to the future, we will strive to do an even better job because of our strong desire to broadcast shows that will appeal to the widest possible audience and also service our advertising and affiliate partners."

ABC's diversity goals for the next six months focus on scholarship, training and employment issues. The network also plans to develop relationships with minority-owned media placement companies to increase account work, as well as increase commercial time bought in minority owned media-placement companies, according to network press statements.


ABC "will be smarter because it will be presenting with an eye toward connecting [advertisers] to a wider range of viewers. . . Our programming will also get better because we'll have a more diverse group involved in production, in front of and behind the camera," says Alex Wallau, president-network administration and operations for ABC.

Before its discussions with the NAACP, the network had seen a need to diversify its sales force.

"It clearly had been too much of a white guy's club," Mr. Wallau says.

"When there are vacancies, there is an extraordinary effort to identify minorities to compete for or fill those jobs," he says.

"We applaud [the] commitment to increase opportunities for people of color at their television networks," says Graciela Eleta, general manager of Procter & Gamble Co.'s Multicultural Marketing Development Organization. "Their efforts will help create a more diverse workforce, which will allow them to meet the needs of their very diverse viewers."

"What we have is a work in progress," Mr. Mfume says. "What we have now is good, but we will monitor it constantly."

Marketers want to advertise in a programming environment that is relevant to their target consumers, says John Curtis, president of J.Curtis & Co., a Montclair, N.J.-based independent multicultural agency that works with clients' lead agencies. J. Curtis, which works with such marketers as United Airlines, CitiBank Private Banking and Citicorp Mortgage, executes multicultural-specific ad efforts that align with the general-market strategy.

"This kind of leverage will become less and less necessary because the advertisers will demand it," says Mr. Curtis. "African-Americans, in certain markets, are the difference between market success and having to explain what went wrong. If business returns suffer, it is probably because people lack market insight."


Advertisers and network execs that still have any doubt about the validity of targeting ethnic groups with advertising messages will be shocked when 2000 census data is released, Mr. Curtis adds.

"The more enlightened advertisers become, the more demands will be placed on that medium," Mr. Curtis says. "The net outcome will be what the NAACP is asking for."

"Anything that the networks do to bring new voices to the medium will revitalize it," Mr. Mandel says. TV imitates itself, notes Mr. Mandel, "A show like `Friends' doesn't reflect the lives of the people watching. You have the same people doing the same shows in the same way."

"We think it's great," says Charlee Taylor-Hines, director of urban and ethnic marketing for Pepsi-Cola North America. "As marketers, we are always seeking out new ways to market to ethnic audiences. There will be more places for us to place our spots, particularly when we want to capture young people who are constantly shifting their attention."


The soft-drink company also is interested in the networks' hiring efforts for other reasons, Ms. Taylor-Hines says.

The long-term effect of employment outreach will be to put more ethnic minorities into the pipeline, which will create a "halo effect," she says. "When we make commercials, there will be a wider talent pool for us to choose from."

Mr. Mfume says, like Mr. Mandel, that the networks track record is one of narrowcasting, not broadcasting. "The shows on network TV represent the past, not future," Mr. Mfume says.

"More diverse shows give [networks] a more diverse reach, which only helps them in the end."

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