A recent survey conducted by the American Advertising Federation’s Mosaic Center for Multiculturalism and Zeta Phi Beta found alarming statistics on how the media portray black women. "Only 12 percent of African-American and Caucasian women believe there are positive images of African-American women in the media," says Mary Breaux Wright, International President, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated.
The survey results did not surprise Melissa Ingram (pictured top right), General Manager of AspireTV. Her network, whose tagline -- “See Yourself Here” – speaks to members of its target audience, is focused on addressing this issue. Ingram notes that, while there are successful black women in media like Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Scandal’s Kerry Washington, “there are still very few depictions of three-dimensional, successful black women on our screens.” This, despite the fact that black women occupy a valuable, growing segment of the consumer and media landscapes. AspireTV maintains its commitment to changing that paradigm, showcasing multifaceted and positive representations of black women through its programming.
Given the intention of being a destination for black content that would adequately represent and contextualize a multicultural audience, Ingram maintains that AspireTV’s “See Yourself Here” tagline is not merely a hashtag; it is an operational mantra that informs everything the network does. It is even more significant as it relates to black women given the dearth of positive representation.
What’s the Secret to Creating Positive, Diverse Representation?
AspireTV’s commitment begins with Ingram and in turn guides the entire team in an environment designed to identify and produce content that will resonate with its viewers. When asked what the “secret sauce” is that makes that environment possible -- and successful -- Ingram states, “At AspireTV, black women creatives can literally see themselves on-air through our talent, like Nikki Chu (pictured top left) of Unboxed with Nikki Chu and Leslie Antonoff of Butter + Brown, and figuratively through women producers and storytellers we work with, like Lynne Robinson of Black Robin Media and Nakia Stephens of Damn Write Originals. We are a brand trusted by black women, largely because black women creatives are the force behind the brand; they believe that we are a place for them because we reflect them, understand them and, most importantly, serve them by providing a platform for them to be heard and their works seen.”
Chu, as mentioned above, is a perfect example of the type of talent that flourishes in an environment like AspireTV. Already an accomplished designer, Chu was able to find a home within the network that was ready to nurture her talent and her unique design perspective. She is one of the few black women to have a home décor line and is a trailblazer in the home and lifestyle market. “AspireTV gave me the opportunity to express my creativity in a way that few other networks would have," says Chu. “I felt right away that there was trust between myself and AspireTV as partners. They weren’t trying to make me something I wasn’t. They were committed to creating an authentic show, and I believe that is why we connect to our audience."
Ignoring Underrepresented Groups is Ignoring Opportunity
Black women are both trendsetters and huge consumers of media. AspireTV’s content goals ultimately align with the broader business goals of connecting to a robust yet underrepresented market. A recent report from Nielsen is loaded with metrics on the mobile, OTT and gaming reach of black women across platforms. Live viewing and DVR/timed-shifted numbers for black women have them spending 15+ more hours per week on these platforms than total women in the United States. These types of consumption rates exist across the Internet and digital, laptop, multimedia devices and smartphones.
This business opportunity to connect is not lost on AspireTV's team, even as brand partners are lagging in their commitment to diversity in general and black women specifically. The network is well positioned to make that connection between the audience and savvy brand partners. “I know it's a cliché to some at this point, but the future is female,” Ingram states. “The influence, the power and thus the value lies with women, and the opportunity is quite simple for brand partners: increase your brand value by embracing one of the most powerful yet underserved groups. Brand partners can be seen on the right side of history as inclusive of women's talent, voice and perspective and have a hand in solidifying a future inclusive of the female voice while pushing forward the sentiment to ‘let women lead.’ AspireTV brand partners have found that embracing the voice of women will, in turn, build trust, tapping into their influence and solidifying their brand for today and sustaining it for the future.”
The Need for More Black Perspectives
Creating a media company that successfully incubates black women creatives requires understanding the needs of the audience and the creator. Balancing those two worlds is an intrinsic part of AspireTV’s DNA and explains why it has struck a chord. Multicultural audiences have a desire for a broad range of content and, even as lifestyle entertainment has grown in popularity, the inclusion of a black perspective is still rare. In short, the powers that be don't always recognize the need for more inclusion.
"In my experience, the traditional world of television is moving slowly, and trends in the real world are outpacing their ability to change,” says Chu. "There is a real demand by audiences to see their faces and their taste reflected at them.” The network’s commitment to an internal team that can “mirror” their viewers puts them in the enviable position to avoid this blind spot.
“If a prospective talent doesn’t resonate with our team first, then we don’t invest,” Ingram notes. “Talent needs to be able to speak to and connect with the women on our team. This connection is very important because we view our talent as an extension of our team, and they have to embody our core values.”
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