Category Archives: Business

OWN Programming STILL Fails To Excite: Women Are Beyond Soap Operas And Chocolate (Maybe Not Chocolate)


“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.” – Oprah Winfrey

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Five years ago, Oprah Winfrey hung up her crown as the greatest daytime host ever to assume the full-time CEO role of her then fledgling network. The Oprah Winfrey Network better known as OWN, a 50-50 partnership between Harpo Productions and Discovery Communications, was suppose to allow Oprah’s rabid fan base to transition from just a few hours of her a day to twenty four hours of programming laid out by the queen of television. You know when they say be careful of what you ask for? This became the question Ms. Winfrey had to be asking herself in the first few years of the new network. Filling twenty four hours of programming versus a few hours proved to be as expected quite a mountainous task. There was shakeup at the network not even one year into its debut as Discovery Communications flexed its muscle in the partnership influencing some changes in leadership. It has helped, but is OWN missing a chance to be a transformative platform for women that can also be a financial juggernaut?

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Filling twenty four hours of quality programming for women actually should not be that complicated. Unfortunately, OWN has reduced women’s interest to a version of Lifetime “light”, Tyler Perry shows, Dr. Phil episodes, and now that Oprah has a ten percent ownership in Weight Watchers International expect viewers to get a full barrage of subtle (or not) hints at body shaming. This new formula has certainly paid off for the network with the most successful quarter in the network’s history coming in the first quarter of 2015. Maybe the expectation that OWN could be much more than it is is unrealistic, but this unimaginative content is not reflective of the myriad of interest that anyone who is a woman or knows a woman has. And it is that very lack of imagination that will keep OWN as a marginal television station and investment for Discovery Communications who may eventually decide to jettison the partnership and financially costing Ms. Winfrey dearly. So what should be done?

The most profitable live television events right now that can not be DVR’d is sports programming, which is why media companies are paying billions to have the licensing rights to the NFL and other live television events in the moment. Sports is an acute missing piece of the OWN programming puzzle, especially when it comes to the NFL where women are the fastest growing demographic fan base. Now, nobody needs to kid themselves that OWN, Discovery, or Ms. Winfrey personally can afford to buy licensing rights to prime NFL games. Disney, a company ten times the size of Discovery Communications and owner of ESPN, pays the NFL almost $2 billion annually just to show NFL games. That being said, where is the “Sportscenter” for women on OWN? Gone are the days where women just sat next to their boyfriend or husband and watched the game. Today, women are as knowledgeable if not more about the game and those who are not are interested in knowing more. A NFL show hosted by women for women could easily take up one or two hours everyday on the network. There are a plethora of women football gurus on social media with devout followings like Lizz Robbins (Lizzs_Lockeroom) with almost 30 000 followers. She tweets about everything from the NFL, NBA, MLB, and even NHL covering a plethora of women demographics that advertisers would love. Never mind it may make the NFL come advertising with OWN instead of the other way around. Secondly, live women’s sporting events often are given the second hand treatment by both men (and women) sporting fans. The WNBA needs more exposure and OWN could offer the league prime time spots. Every professional sport women participate in like the LPGA and WTA could benefit from time on OWN and OWN could benefit from their content. Now, instead of fathers and sons rooting on their favorite athlete it could be mothers and daughters cheering on Serena Williams or Skylar Diggins. You know ESPN’s 30 for 30? What about producing one of those on “Babe” Zaharias, the multi-sport start of the early twentieth century that showed many that women loved to get down and dirty and compete just like her male counterparts. Again, a women-centric view that speaks to not only women’s interest, but highlights women’s participation that is so often overlooked in mainstream media.

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Beyond sports, there is a treasure trove of other possibilities. A show on technology that features Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, and Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code, could highlight news on the latest in women’s work and innovation in the field. A political show with both liberal and conservative views featuring the recently released MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry and Christina Sommers, respectively. Apart or together they would certainly generate fireworks, ratings, and revenue with both having very strong social media followings. And given women’s increased economic importance to both their household and the nation, a myriad of shows such as financial and investment news featuring Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments in Chicago, or a complete show dedicated to women entrepreneurs who are now responsible for 3 out of every 5 new businesses (see above) started in the United States. The Federal Reserve, arguably the world’s most powerful bank, is led by a woman. The next president of the United States of America maybe a woman. Countless countries around the world are already headed by women. Again, the possibilities for meaningful, substantive, and profitable content are endless because women’s interest are as vast as the land and sea.

It is hard to know whether OWN is actually being held back by its relationship with Discovery Communications, which may have a formula it believes works for women’s programming. The problem is that programming model is outdated. Gone are the days where the belief was that women only want to watch soap operas and eat chocolate. There is an opportunity for OWN to be a trailblazer in reflecting the new reality and profit handsomely from doing so. Women’s importance is no longer behind closed doors, but in the forefront of every aspect of our society today. It is time that mediums, especially ones that are visual and have the ability to impact future generations of girls reflect the new world. The leadership at OWN must realize that being at the vanguard of this will be what ensures its success (and profitability) and not doing so will ultimately doom it to the dustbin. After all, this is business.

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Oprah Winfrey Purchases Over 10 Percent Of Weight Watchers International


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In a surprise move to many, Oprah Winfrey, Tennessee State University alum and second wealthiest HBCU graduate, purchased a 6.4 million shares of Weight Watchers International’s 57.3 million outstanding shares giving her an 11.2 percent stake in the company. She also has the option to purchase an additional 3.5 million shares, which would push her stake in the company to 17.3 percent. In either case the deal makes Ms. Winfrey the company’s second largest shareholder behind the Artal Group S.A., which itself is owned by Invus, an European shared family office representing a number of wealthy European families.

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The deal also is going to feature Ms. Winfrey as the new face of Weight Watchers. A move to help the long embattled company turnaround is the hope of Ms. Winfrey’s midas touch, that itself has lost some of its luster the past few years. OWN, Ms. Winfrey’s network that she co-owns in a 50-50 venture with Discovery Communications, has struggled to truly gain traction and take off as many had hoped. However, we can certainly expect Weight Watchers to become featured product on the channel’s programming that targets women 25-54.

Will this deal pay off for Ms. Winfrey and her HARPO, Inc.? After the announcement of Oprah’s investment shares in the company doubled and risen almost 150 percent in a little over a week since the October 16th close. Despite this feverish rise short sellers in the company have increased their borrowing of shares by 25 percent. A sign that Ms. Winfrey’s presence is nothing more than temporary fix to a company that may be permanently broken. One of the key statistics to examine is Weight Watcher’s net income (profits) is down over almost 55 percent over the past three years. However, one must also assume that Ms. Winfrey and her team did their due diligence prior to such an investment and see some light at the end of the tunnel.

If the deal does fail, do not worry. The $43.2 million investment in Weight Watchers International is only 1.4 percent of Ms. Winfrey’s net worth, which currently stands at $3.1 billion.

 

A New Threat To African American Owned Media Launched By Comcast/NBC


“I do not expect the white media to create positive black male images.” – Huey Newton

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I have to say when this first came across my feed I thought it was a hoax. NBC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast, would not really be getting into culture specific media. I was wrong, then I was worried. Below is the editorial release from Amber Payne, Editor of NBCBLK: 

NBCBLK covers stories by, for and about the black community. Our product is meant to elevate America’s conversation about black identity, politics, and culture. We share positive, solution-based journalism and report on challenging issues that communities of color face today. NBCBLK taps NBC News journalists around the world to tell these stories, and we curate reports from NBC News platforms — Nightly, Today Show, Dateline, and local affiliates among other NBC outlets.

We welcome your ideas, your feedback, and your perspective.

It goes without saying that it is already difficult to get many African Americans to consider African American news outlets first when they consume media be it newspapers, television, radio, or digital media. Many in African America often feel validated when other communities promote businesses targeted at us as some form of acceptance.  It goes back to the old saying about our perception of white ice being colder than black ice. In media, it is even more complicated given its ability to shape the values and ideals of its consumer. When news breaks on anything relating to our community very rarely do we as African Americans turn first to our news sources. Even covering the Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, and other police shootings almost none of my Facebook feed posted articles relating to the matter from an African American owned media outlet. According to BlackNews.com, “There are currently about 200 different black newspapers in about 150 different cities across the United States. Many cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, have more than one paper.”  This is not including digital only sites like HBCU Money, HBCU Digest, and many other HBCU owned sites. Granted, we are lacking in television station ownership and have a fleeting ownership of radio stations, but when it comes to digital newspapers and magazines we have a strong presence, but it is under consumed by our communities.

This latest foray by NBC will potentially only make that even more difficult as we consistently turn to European American owned outlets to get our point of view. CNN, MSNBC, NY Times, just to name a few or the ones like NBCBLK who cater to African Americans with European American ownership such as The Root, BET, and even TVOne to some degree given its complex partnership with you guessed it, Comcast. Their views of us often shaped by internal politics and biases be they liberal or conservative.

And who is benefiting from this media asset? Well to know that you would have to know who Comcast major shareholders (below) are. The top ten institutions that own Comcast shares are a who’s who among major financial institutions, none of which are African American owned.

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Therefore every click and view that the new site receives is only increasing the financial value of these media and financial institutions outside of our community’s ownership and control. However, African American owned media should not shy away from this challenge or competition. Competition is the business we are in and to reach our audience we must think ahead of the curve and create value that they can not get anywhere else, but it goes without saying they are instantly a game changer. That sound you hear? African American owned media company CEOs and presidents rushing to their war rooms.

Is Radio One On The Verge Of Bankruptcy Or Great Comeback? Stock Trending Toward Zero


Adoption and continuation of policies that incorporate a maximum of forward thinking should be the most vital single consideration of all executives. – Charles Presbrey

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I remember reading once about the founder and former owner of BET, Robert L. Johnson telling of a friend of his who made a joke that if African Americans owned all the largest corporations in America there would be no need for the Securities & Exchanges Commission. The mission of the the S.E.C. as it is more aptly known is to per their website, “protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.” A large part of that job is oversee companies involved in mergers and acquisitions. The reason Johnson’s friend said there would be no need for the S.E.C. if African Americans owned/ran America’s largest corporations is because they would never merge. In other words, everyone wants to be the chief and nobody wants to be the Indian. We would rather be the CEO of a small company than scale up and become part of the executive team of a much larger company. The big fish in the little pond mentality if you will. The rumor mill has it that at one time Bob Johnson approached Cathy Hughes about a potential merger between BET and Radio One, but was rebuffed because it would take Ms. Hughes and her son out of the Chairman/CEO roles of the new, larger, and stronger company. This mentality often explains why you will see twenty storefront churches on one block in African American neighborhoods, but I digress.

Radio One is your classic African American entrepreneur story. Founded in 1980, by then husband and wife team Dewey and Cathy Hughes, they were rejected by 32 banks (I wonder if any were African American owned banks) before being able to secure funding to buy their first radio station. After the couple divorced, Cathy Hughes would go on to build the company into the most valuable African American owned public company, valued today at almost $80 million and now run by her son, Alfred Liggins III. According to Yahoo Finance, as of December 31, 2013, Radio One owned and operated 54 broadcast stations located in 16 urban markets. However, the $80 million valuation today is a bit misleading though because fifteen years ago at its apex Radio One was actually valued at $1.5 billion when its stock price would summit just seven months after its IPO at $97.50 per share. A feat virtually unheard of among African American private or public owned companies. So what happen? How did the company lose almost 95 percent of its value over the past fifteen years?

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The company has had three major headwinds working against it since its apex. First, the dotcom bubble of 2000 really dealt a blow to the company that it honestly never recovered from. After their 3:1 stock split in June 2000, the stock would see its prices tumble 82 percent over the next few months before making a healthy recovery over the next few months. A few years into the recovery the stock price would reach back into the mid-twenties briefly, but it would then begin on its precipitous decline and over the next five years as the second wave of the internet boom took off. Tech companies like Pandora and other music sharing sites began to take off pushing radio companies against a wall. This would be the second headwind that started to push against Radio One. While the company was a player in the urban radio sector, it was by no means large enough or revenue diverse enough to withstand the onslaught that happen in that second tech wave. With new kids on the block companies like Pandora, Spotify, and the colossal of clout Apple’s Itunes on the scene and playing impetuously in radio’s sandbox, it then became harder and harder for radio to keep listeners. Mike Stern in an article from Medialife Magazine noted that, “Back in 2000, time spend was: radio at 2:43, TV at 2:37 and internet at :59. In 2010 it was internet first at 2:53, then TV at 2:47, with radio third at 1:24, according to the study. The culprit, no surprise, is all the other media options out there that didn’t exist a decade ago or were in their infancy. With yet more media options becoming available, presumably those declines will continue.” It also did not help that most radio companies response was to slash and try to hold the fort as oppose to consolidate and expand. Neil Rubin of The Detroit Times says, “Radio doesn’t help itself when it cost-cuts to the point of irrelevance. Rounds of layoffs by corporate-owned stations, Jacobs says, leave too many time slots with voices from afar that don’t know Taylor from Taylor Swift, so what’s the incentive to listen to their music instead of your own?” So not only were people spending less time listening to radio because of more options, but they were also dispassionate about what radio was offering, which only compounded the problem.  Lastly, Radio One’s attempt to diversify its revenues arguably was a mixture of too late and a poor strategic partner. In an attempt to create a rival to BET they announced TVOne, a joint venture deal with NBCUniversal, a company who at the time was in the process of being a joint venture itself between General Electric and Comcast, with the latter eventually almost a decade later owning NBCUniversal outright. While it may have been called a joint venture on paper, when an $80 million company (Radio One) and a $150 billion company (Comcast) do a joint venture, it is hard to know exactly what “joint” means, because it sure does not have to mean equal. The Daily Beast reports Radio One’s ownership originally was 36.8 percent while Comcast held 34 percent, but there is no mention of who owned the remaining 29.2 percent. Making the matter even more perplexing is that also in that 2011 article, the Daily Beast reported, “Comcast acknowledged in an email to The Daily Beast that it facilitated this stock acquisition, though it said the terms of the deal were “confidential.” allowing Radio One to increase its ownership stake from 36.8 to 50.8 percent in TVOne. It never states that Comcast decreased (or increased) its ownership, so who or whatever mystery investor held that 29.2 percent may have been exiting their investment. Also, it stands to reason that just because Radio One has majority ownership does not necessarily put it in control of TVOne. Hello, dual class stock ownerships. The joint venture only speaks of the ownership stake and not the voting stock, which can be two completely separate situations. However, if Radio One is in it for the revenue, then this could be in their favor long-term or they could have more ownership of a joint venture classified in the mystery investor’s portfolio under Titanic given that since the Daily Beast article in July 2011 until now the stock price is virtually unchanged despite this increased ownership. In the early parts of 2014, there have been some forays in the five dollar price range only to see the stock tumble back down the rabbit hole. Simply put, in hindsight Radio One needed a dance partner and it chose the wrong one when it came to television.

Re-enter the “what could have been” scenario in a merger between BET and Radio One. It would have created a much deeper entrenchment of a company that would have been the epicenter of African American entertainment media. A virtual monopoly if you will on their core demographic segment. You could even make the argument that with TV and radio under its belt the new company then could have gone after print, say for instance acquiring Black Enterprise, Essence, or perhaps some of the larger African American newspapers around the country. At this point we are easily talking a multi-billion dollar company, again with a monopoly on its demographic. All that needed was for egos to be set aside. A task that I understand is easier said than done at times. The problem is not finding a way at all now sees both Essence and BET in the hands of other communities and Radio One teetering on the brink of financial distress.

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The company’s current financial situation is a puzzlement to the eye as it has two and half times the EBITDA and almost twice the revenue (pictured above) that Salem Communications, but has a negative net income of almost $66 million versus Salem’s positive net income of almost $11 million. This positive net income allows Salem Communications to offer a dividend making it even more attractive to investors in this low interest/yield environment and therefore creating more demand on the stock, which may explain why Salem with less revenue and EBITDA has a market cap of two and half times of Radio One. However, maybe Radio One has started to follow the advice of Dick Kernen of the Specs Howard School of Media Arts in Southfield and get laser focused. Kernen said in the Rubin article that, “If you’d come into a (television) station 25 years ago pitching an idea for 24 hours of weather,” he says, “they’d have called security. But the Weather Channel has flourished, along with endless others. Meanwhile, the fastest-growing radio format is Christian, with an audience advertisers can depend on to be loyal.” The latter part may explain Salem Communication’s oversized success for its size, since it is a Christiancentric multimedia format that includes radio.

Radio One maybe getting the message though. Recently, its Houston 92.1 station got some of that laser focus switching from a 24 hour news format in favor of 80s and 90s hip-hop, which was more suited to its urban clientele. It has been nothing short of a smashing hit and with the 30-45 year old demographic who tend to be job stable and many have families in one of the country’s hottest economies. One could argue that 92.1 is in an advertising sweet spot. This is just one station in one market, but it also is 92.1’s third format since I have lived back in Houston since 2010, which tells me Radio One’s team is willing to tinker until it blows up or they get it right. They also recently completed the acquisition through their Interactive One subsidiary of a very popular digital publication founded by Russell Simmons called Globalgrind.com, which has entrenched itself among the millennial demographic. You wonder though if the company would ever have the heart to part with its leadership if this current run does not work, but for now it seems the board and Ms. Hughes are going to continue to have faith in her son to run the show. So maybe what we are seeing is not a company on the verge of bankruptcy, but a company sharpening its vision for the future. The stock is still going in the wrong direction, but maybe the company is going in the right direction. Value stock, anyone?

For The Greater Good, Make Donald Sterling Keep The Clippers


Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. – 12th Century Idiom

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I am a fan of prenuptial agreements. As a banker you come to realize that money, divorces, and emotions are a Molotov cocktail waiting to explode. A former associate of mine allowed car loans that both she and her now former husband purchased new vehicles with to be all in her name because of his poor credit. As the marriage dissolved and headed for divorce she just wanted it over and was willing to sign whatever to expedite the divorce. By the time she came to her senses she realized that she was stuck with a bundle of debt for two cars, her car was upside down, no recourse, and an ex-husband who basically got a vehicle free and clear. The point is that emotions of the short-term moment often end with long-term consequences that are more detrimental to the injured parties. Enter, Donald Sterling.

For those who are unaware Donald Sterling is a lawyer who made his wealth not through litigation, but through leveraging his earning into real estate holdings. According to Nadja Brandt of Bloomberg, “He owns at least 160 apartment buildings, office properties and single-family homes in the area, many of which he purchased with cash, according to county records compiled by data provider LexisNexis.” In addition, over the past eighteen months she reports, “They’ve purchased at least 12 houses and three multifamily buildings from the beginning of 2013 through last month for a total of $58.7 million, according to Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor records.” Now, with the NBA forcing the sale of the Clippers amongst public pressure, Mr. Sterling is about to be let loose with $1 billion in capital, the expected sale price of the team, to go on a real estate buying spree. Currently, the Los Angeles Clippers produce about $15 million net income per annum according to recent Forbes assessment. A significantly less amount of capital to accumulate property than a sale thanks to having to keep significant capital tied up in the operation of the team.

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Two significant items of importance to consider with a man who owns 160 apartment buildings before you let him loose with a billion bullets. He has already paid according to Housing Wire’s Trey Garrison, “The longtime Democrat and NAACP donor agreed to pay $2.625 million to a fund for tenants and prospective tenants injured by his discriminatory practices, plus $100,000 in fines” in 2009. Before that according to Garrison, “in 2005 after a settlement was reached, wherein a judge ordered Sterling to pay nearly $5 million in attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs.” Remember, he already owns at least 160 apartment buildings. Has anyone given any thought to how many he potentially could own by forcing the sale of the Clippers? No, because we are caught up in the emotions of the moment.

There are 12 players on the Los Angeles Clippers roster. The NBA is comprised of 30 teams with 12 players on each for a total of 360 players. So let us take a good hard look at the number of people potentially impacted by the sale because right now we are only talking twelve. Initially, Donald Sterling was going to fight the forced sale of the team, but I am sure he, his lawyers, and financial advisers may have come to the same conclusion I have looking at the numbers. He could arguably double his real estate holdings, which means he could potentially be the landlord of as few as 30 000 or potentially as many as 300 000 plus Los Angeles citizens versus the grumblings of twelve basketball players and staff. My math is still pretty sharp and the last I checked 12 is less than 30 000, so for the sake of the greater good please let this man keep his team. Most often it is best to take a step back and let the emotions clear the room to be sure a rational decision is being thought out and made. Otherwise, get out the scalpel.