Despite the touted “unlimited” frontier of cable television, there are definitely constrictions, when it comes to producers of African American content.
And that is one of the issues at the heart of the debate surrounding the proposed Comcast-NBCU merger.
To understand the controversy requires understanding how cable systems work.
These systems such as Comcast, Time Warner and Cox distribute programming content from entities often called networks or channels such as ESPN, CNN, TBS, TNT, BET and TV One.
These channels can be distributed on multiple cable systems.
Currently, according to the media watchdog organization Free Press, and based on FCC filings, 77 percent of all television channels are White-owned
Additionally, the top three owners of African-American targeted cable television channels are TV One, Time Warner and Viacom. Of that group, only TV One (a Black-founded but now publicly traded company) would be considered “Black owned.”
Among the Black-owned cable channels that currently exist or are in development are The Black Television News Channel and The Africa Channel.
The Black Family Channel, which folded in 2007 because it was not able to obtain wide-spread distribution on a cable system, according to one published report, highlights one of the issues in the process–cable systems can limit a channel’s access to its subscribers by agreeing to carry the programming in only a limited number of markets.
Additionally, the systems can make certain channels a “premium” buy rather than part of the basic cable package every subscribers receives free.