African Americans Are Trendsetters
We have always been trendsetters whether it's fashion, gadgets, music, or businesses African Americans have been pioneers in most cases. As I think about my early days growing up I realize that it was because of black media that I always known how we impacted the world. This in turn gave me the confidence to realize that I to could to one day help set trends as well. In times when it was almost impossible to find black images for us to emulate, we found them on black media outlets. Whether is was the Jet and Ebony on your dining room table, The black radio stations that Cathy Hughes created for us with Radio One or Bob Johnson giving us images on the TV with BET. We always had these outlets to help us understand we were making an impact in the world.
The other things that these companies showed us was that there were opportunities for innovation for African Americans in their respective industries. If there was no Jet or Ebony would there have been a Vibe, Source, Giant or Black Enterprise? If not for Radio One we would not have the powerful black music that motivates us today or the strong syndicated voices like Tom Joyner, or Yolanda Adams. And with TV there are too many examples to begin to mention. The point is that the success of these media businesses created an ecosystem of success for African Americans in those areas.
The Digital Problem
So now we are faced with a new wave of innovation, the digital age, which presents it's own set of challenges for African Americans and it's own set of opportunities for black media. We have not had as strong of a showing in black media on the digital front as we have had in more traditional forms of media. I ask you to name 5 products (Not Sites) that exist for African Americans (Web or Mobile) right now. I believe you will be hard pressed to so do so. In the age of Facebook and Twitter these product platforms create opportunities for content to have life of it's own and for the users to become tastemakers and curators. Even the most active content communities recognize that they need these platforms to create the type of engagement and the viral reach needed to make their digital platforms successful. Even mainstream media companies like Conde Nast have seen the need in a product platform to create growth in this age, which explains their purchase of Reddit.
While there is currently no shortage of content sites for African Americans there are currently few product options that cater to African Americans even though sites like twitter have proven we can and will engage in these products in mass. Our users currently get that engagement in these products but still desire for those products to allow the items and topics that are culturally relevant to be front and center. Something those products will never give them due to their mainstream focus.
Multicultural is Not the Same as Black
Part of the reason why these products do not exist is because certain perceptions have been created that have devalued the focus on the African American audience. People now use catch all phrases like "hip hop demographic" or "urban" to encapsulate the black audience. While books like Steve Stoute's Tanning of America have done a great job showing how these subcultures have influenced mainstream America but I would contend that the "tanning" piece of this is due to the innovations coming from African Americans and those terms don't speak to the breadth and needs of African-American culture. Latino focused media companies are currently much more successful at this in the digital space in their ability to create offerings that are both culturally relevant and engaging while also showing the value of their audience's diversity to mainstream consumers and the advertising community.
Why We Need Black Media To Succeed In Digital
With the lack of digital products catering to our audience and the dilution of our audience's unique value proposition, where should we look for that ecosystem to be created? Where we have always looked, Black media. As black media companies are successful in the digital space creating products for this audience they will once again be able to create iconic examples of what success looks in the digital space so that we can encourage other entrepreneurs to model that behavior as they have on other media platforms. This is not a new problem. I've personally been working on this for over a decade during my time at BET and in co-founding Globalgrind.com. But in both of those experiences I've realized that a media company that has both and strong product and a strong media platform is key to accelerating this growth. This is one of the reason I'm excited to be at Interactive One. We have the ability to reach African Americans across three mediums (Radio, TV and Online). We also understand the value and having products to anchor those experiences are in the process of developing a new version of Blackplanet . I am personally spearheading this project and am excited to help revitalize this brand for a new generation. There also needs to be an effort to create a digital entrepreneurship pipeline within our audience as well. Interactive One was sponsor of the NewME Accelerator program, which was featured on CNN's Black in America but that was just one example of the many things we can do and other media companies can do. I believe it's important for us all to push for Black media to be successful in digital. It's important for their future as well as ours.