By Todd Wasserman
"What's general market? Is it black and brown or Caucasian?"
Monique L. Nelson of UniWorld's opener to a Monday afternoon Advertising Week panel titled "Inside Men: Content Pros and the Multicultural Consumer" was certainly provocative, though the panelists never really got the bottom of the issue.
Perhaps that's because the answer seemed to be: Who cares about the general market? The Internet seems to have mooted the concern. For instance, Kevin Frazier, a host of Entertainment Tonight, said he was frustrated by ET's lack of interest in covering events related to African American celebrities. So, Frazier took matters into his own hands with HipHollywood.com, a site devoted to news about such celebs. (He also worked out a deal in which ET sometimes grabs HH's content.) "We've got to stop knocking on the door and saying, 'Why won't you let us in?' " said Frazier. "We've got to go out and do it ourselves."
Robert Townsend (pictured above), an African American actor and director known for such films as Hollywood Shuffle and the Five Heartbeats, is also sold on the Web as a multicultural game changer. He is now the president of V Studios, which makes Web-only content like Diary of a Single Mom, which he says has gotten 2 million unique visitors since it made its debut last year. Likewise, BET is dabbling in online-only content like Buppies and Shop Talk to "tell a vast array of stories," said Alvin Bowles, svp of brand solutions for the network.
While it's too soon to tell if such content will awaken advertisers to new opportunities to reach black consumers ("Everyone is still figuring it out as we go," Townsend said), the panelists agreed that today, 20 years after Cosby, a popular TV show with a predominantly African American cast is a rarity, as are black leading men. "You always have the [guy who says], 'Captain, we have a body over here,' or 'Your wife's on the phone,' " said Townsend, bemoaning the paucity of small-screen black leads.
The question was especially vexing when relating to The Game, a TV show formerly carried on the CW that was canceled despite a loyal viewership (though ratings were also falling at the time). BET picked up the show this summer and plans to run new episodes in 2011. Bowles took a business-is-business attitude towards the CW's move, noting that the advertisers might not have been going after the demo the show reached, whether it was too young or too black. Said Bowles: "You can't place advertising against a show [marketers] don't want to advertise against."
Related: Check out Adweek's Diversity Special Issue, published this week.