*NBA legend-turned-business mogul, Earvin Magic Johnson, is gearing up for the next phase of his expansive business portfolio – running his own network.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Hall of Famer is preparing for the summer launch of Aspire, a 24-hour channel with a focus on what Johnson called positive, uplifting images of African Americans. The basic cable outlet will join other channels targeting black viewers, such as BET and TV One, and will offer opportunities for blacks who have struggled to find work in mainstream Hollywood.
“This is so exciting for me, I’m pinching myself,” Johnson told the LA Times’ Greg Braxton and Meg James in a phone interview. “This is big for myself, for the African American community and the African American creative community. I wanted a vehicle to show positive images and to have stories written, produced and directed by African Americans for our community. Aspire — that’s how I’ve been leading my life.”
Aspire’s mix will include film, TV, music and comedy, with a combination of acquired projects and original programming. “There will some performing arts and shows about faith,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s entry into the television arena comes courtesy of communications giant Comcast Corp. as part of its agreement with the FCC and Department of Justice to diversify the cable landscape. Comcast agreed last year to launch 10 new independently owned cable channels, with most backed by African Americans and Latinos, by 2018. Johnson’s channel is scheduled to be the first.
Comcast’s obligation to support minority-owned channels came after a bruising yearlong federal review of the Philadelphia cable company’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, which includes the NBC broadcast network, NBC television stations, Universal Studios, Universal Pictures, cable channels USA, Bravo, Syfy, MSNBC and CNBC and Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo.
During the extensive review process, which spanned all of 2010, executives were called before Congress to defend the merger. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) was particularly tenacious in her grilling of NBCUniversal and Comcast officers, questioning their commitment to hiring and advancing minorities.
With Aspire, which is scheduled for a June 30 launch, Johnson becomes the second A-list celebrity to launch a network in the last two years. Oprah Winfrey established OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network as a vehicle for her philosophy of inspiration and personal empowerment. But OWN has struggled ever since its January 2011 launch, failing to develop any shows or projects that have attracted large audiences.
Johnson is aware of the risks: “We’ll learn from those who have gone before us. We understand the landscape, and we will run a sound business.”
Launching a cable channel takes considerable investment — in some cases, as much as $100 million. Johnson declined to discuss the financial details, although the venture will be paid for through a combination of personal and private equity funds.
Aspire will have headquarters in Atlanta and will partner with GMC, a regional cable channel that offers uplifting programming. The channel Aspire initially will be available in 11 million of Comcast Cable customers’ homes. Johnson hopes to expand the network to other cable providers to reach about 50 million homes within a few years.
Johnson will be the chief executive of Aspire, while Eric Holoman, the president of Magic Johnson Enterprises, will be chief operating officer.
An executive to run the channel is being sought. Johnson will not have much involvement with programming: “I’m not going to be picking shows. That’s not what I do.”