Black-owned media company The Africa Channel (TAC), which targets members of the African diaspora, has grown its reach significantly in the last several months as calls to increase spend with diverse-owned media companies grew louder.
Ahead of the upfronts, Comcast expanded its partnership with TAC to distribute programming to XFINITY customers in 60 new markets. In May, Charter expanded its distribution of TAC to Spectrum TV subscribers in 41 states.
But enthusiasm for The Africa Channel was not always so prevalent, said Narendra Reddy, EVP and general manager of TAC.
“One of the principal challenges we faced were some of the very draconian contracts that we had to sign in order to get the minimum carriage on Charter and Comcast,” he explained. “The ‘Most Favored Nations’ clause prevented us from negotiating different deals with different operators.”
TAC was also prohibited from launching any other services that would be deemed competitive to Charter or Comcast, effectively barring it from the digital space.
“While the laws [eventually] got changed in our favor, we had to be careful not to come flying out of the gate with [a product] that would be deemed competitive, because [the cable operators] could just drop us,” Reddy said.
In the last year, however, as calls for diversity and inclusion have grown louder, companies have begun to make larger commitments to decrease the barriers to entry for minority-owned media companies.
For instance, WPP’s GroupM has called on its clients to spend at least 2% of their annual budgets on Black-owned media by 2022. Dentsu has created an Economic Empowerment group led by veteran media buyer Mark Prince aimed to grow investments with minority-owned publishers. Meanwhile, Black media mogul Byron Allen sued McDonald’s for discriminating against diverse-media companies with its media budgets. The brand spends less than $5 million of its $1.6 billion annual television ad budget on Black-owned media.
As a result, the tide has changed for TAC amongst brands as well.
The pandemic caused people to watch more television, including Black audiences, which spend the most time viewing linear TV among all racial groups. The Black Lives Matter movement also drove more brands to want to get involved with TACs content, Reddy said.
“There is much more attention being paid to changing the narrative in the marketplace and destroying the myth that one-size-fits-all for black audiences,” Reddy said. “Previously, when we would knock on doors, we would always get the response that [media buyers] had BET or Revolt, like somehow having one or two Black channels check the box for them, not recognizing that black audiences are as diverse as general audiences.”
He added that TAC’s content is authentic and recognizes the nuances of the Black audience by targeting foreign-born Black Americans.
In addition to partnerships with Charter and Comcast, The Africa Channel is making inroads on CTV. The network now has reach on Pluto and Roku’s premium service.
For Reddy, the interest seems like a tide shift as brands recognize that beyond being the right thing to do, investing in Black-owned media “makes absolute business sense.”
“This can be valuable to everybody involved — brands, audiences and operators,” Reddy said. “[Media buyers] need to give small companies run by Black professionals the opportunity to play in the same space. This is not a hand-out. This is not a charity. But [they] have to create the opportunity.”