US

Inside Magic Johnson’s perfunctory African-American TV network

Photo of Patrick Howley
Patrick Howley
Political Reporter

NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s African-American cable television network, Aspire, has been plagued in its early months by disinterest from Johnson, minimal programming ambition, budgetary constraints, conflicts of interest and perfunctory management, raising questions about the network created one year ago in an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to increase African-American presence in cable television.

Managers from GMC tv — which was founded by white executive Charley Humbard and is generally run by “whites,” according to observers — make the vast majority of the programming, management and hiring decisions at Aspire.

Aspire was announced in February 2012 as the first of 10 new cable networks launched by Comcast Corp. in the course of its merger with NBCUniversal. California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters waged a fierce battle to hold up the FCC’s approval of the NBC-Comcast merger until Comcast agreed to create 10 new networks, at least eight of which would be run by minority businessmen, to “diversify the cable landscape.”

Johnson, a longtime friend of Maxine Waters who has donated more than $80,000 to Democratic politicians since 2007, quickly applied and was given control of the first network. It is unclear how much money Johnson received from Comcast as part of the deal.

So far, Aspire has been the only network launched as part of the program. And insiders are doubting whether Johnson – who led an ownership group that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers shortly before Aspire’s launch in June - was ever really interested in creating diverse television at all.

Chairman and CEO Johnson has visited the Atlanta-based offices of Aspire on no more than two ocassions. Representatives of his company Magic Johnson Enterprises, the principal owner of the network, have visited Aspire no more than four times, according to a source.

The network is managed by its partner, GMC TV, a family-oriented gospel music-themed cable network, and housed in the same office building as GMC. Both Aspire and GMC moved into the beige Atlanta office building across the street from a Marriott hotel at the same time, back in June.

But Johnson’s disinterest in the network has placed Aspire’s primary management in the hands of its partner, a rival cable network competing for the same market share that Aspire was ostensibly designed to access.

“If Comcast had thought in the first place that there was a viable business model here, they probably already would have [created an Aspire-type network]. It’s not going to be a success if you force them to do it,” TechFreedom president Berin Szoka told The Daily Caller, referring to the political pressure that led to Aspire’s creation.