February’s Black History Month celebration draws attention from across the media spectrum. While general-market media brands often see Black History Month (BHM) as an opportunity to “right the ship” and compensate for a lack of diverse content, African-American-targeted brands like AspireTV reflect on black historical legacy and achievement, alongside the series, specials and movies they regularly offer to the black community. In any case, black audience expectations are elevated during BHM, and networks like AspireTV that serve those audiences year-round might feel a special obligation to raise the bar while reminding their audiences that black history is being made every day.
AspireTV’s belief that the black audience could be better served and represented is reflected in its programming mandate. Guided by the tagline "See yourself here," AspireTV aims to be the premier choice for a discerning viewer seeking to live his or her "best life." The commitment is a top-down strategy, originating with the network’s Chairman and CEO, Earvin “Magic” Johnson (pictured above). In the latest episode of the network’s Icons, Idols and Influencers primetime special, host and actor/comedian Chris Spencer digs into the motivations and inspirations that drive the Hall of Fame basketball player turned mogul.
AspireTV is one of many unique companies in Mr. Johnson’s vast and diverse portfolio. Inclusive of ownership stakes in the L.A. Dodgers, the L.A. Sparks and pro soccer team LAFC, AspireTV stands out in this portfolio, and he is definitive and clear about why. “All of my businesses are unique, but in every business, I seek to advance my mission of providing quality entertainment and services to the underserved community," he says. "When I created AspireTV, I wanted to create a cable network that would reflect an accurate portrayal of the black experience and allow black viewers to see themselves. Media is powerful and influences our everyday lives, so it was important to me to create a network that celebrates the black community.”
It stands to reason that an annual month where the general market joins in celebrating black history drives an important programming strategy at AspireTV. “AspireTV was launched with the knowledge that black people are ‘making history every day’,” Tina Rodriguez, the network’s Head of Programming and Acquisitions states. “Our BHM programming strategy acknowledges our game changers, salutes our freedom fighters, amplifies the voice of survivors and -- this is important -- celebrates tomorrow's all-stars."
The “celebration of tomorrow’s all-stars" drives AspireTV's forward-looking original content, like Butter & Brown, Unboxed with Nikki Chu and the aforementioned Icons, Idols and Influencers. To AspireTV, BHM looks beyond history to spotlight new traditions and new storytelling voices. That is “the key to unlocking the opportunity” presented by Black History Month, Rodriguez explains. “The meaning behind the month inspires the network and those who engage with the brand; to remember our history, to reinvent our destinies and to move forward delivering content that embraces urban culture and lifestyle and is unapologetically black.”
The AspireTV team has bigger ambitions for its BHM programming, and it holds content creators to a higher standard to “get it right.” Being “predominantly black-focused” is not enough: The network sees BHM as an opportunity to differentiate and connect with audiences looking for something more. “We know our viewers have a heightened interest in watching and connecting with black culture, lifestyle and history," says Rodriguez. "Every week during the month, we feel we must deliver a special destination that weaves together Black History Month with AspireTV originals, movies, documentaries and live HBCU sports."
AspireTV maintains that the key to unlocking BHM’s power is to recognize that it’s more than dates on a calendar or black faces on a screen. It requires a commitment to the audience to go beyond pandering -- to elevate your offerings to exceed their expectations. AspireTV will tell you they don’t have a separate “BHM agenda” -- rather, they see BHM as a seamless part of their content that gets even more of a spotlight during the month. It’s a lesson worth paying attention to by those looking to make Black History Month a significant portion of their programming strategy.
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