STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Rapper and producer Sean "Diddy" Combs, film director Robert Rodriguez, and basketball legend Magic Johnson have something in common. They each have their own new cable television channels. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports these new channels were part of a deal that Comcast made with the FCC to create more minority presence on the airwaves.
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SEAN DIDDY COMBS: (rapping) It was all a dream. We used to read Word Up magazine...
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Last month, Sean Combs threw on his classic Puff Daddy alias to welcome millennial viewers to his new music network, REVOLT.
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COMBS: This is really happening, people. A boy from Harlem is really standing on a stoop in Brooklyn launching a network worldwide. The revolution is now being televised.
BARCO: Next month, film director Robert Rodriquez will introduce young English-speaking Latinos to "El Rey." He partnered with Spanish language network Univision to produce an action-packed lineup, including a new Latino James Bond-style series.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: "El Rey" is going to be the king of content. Iconic, addictive, exciting, visceral television.
BARCO: El Rey and Revolt are Comcast's latest commitments to diversity. For years, civil rights groups have pointed to the dearth of programming for and by African-Americans, Latinos and Asians. So when media giant Comcast wanted to merge with NBC Universal two years ago, it was a chance to demand more cable networks be owned and run by people of color.
As a condition of the merger, Comcast promised the FCC it would distribute new so-called minority owned networks. They started with "Baby First America"-- for bilingual babies, aged zero to three.
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BARCO: Next came Aspire, Magic Johnson's family-oriented network. Its lineup includes reruns of the old "Bill Cosby Show", "Julia," "Soul Train" and "The Flip Wilson Show."
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BARCO: Writer Anita Wilson Pringle is no fan of Johnson's lineup of TV retreads.
ANITA WILSON PRINGLE: He promised innovative, new fresh ideas, new fresh programming, and it's not.
BARCO: Pringle's upset that Aspire's managers were merely reshuffled from the old Gospel Music Channel. And she says the people Aspire is supposed to serve - African-Americans - don't exactly need more reruns or talk shows.
PRINGLE: It's crap, if you really want to know the truth. But my thing is they did this to break that monopoly that Comcast was having on all these stations, and all that has happened is that Comcast has a stronger monopoly.
BARCO: Washington insiders who were close to Comcast's FCC deal say no one expects these networks to survive. But Comcast's vice president of multicultural services, Ruben Mendiola, disagrees. In fact, he says Comcast plans to host a total of 10 independent channels over the next few years.
RUBEN MENDIOLA: Independent networks sometimes have a little bit of a problem to find their footing in America. And I think what we do is guarantee the distribution for these networks so people can discover the channels and they can give it a try.
BARCO: Comcast is counting on the celebrity entrepreneurs to attract large audiences and advertisers. Rodriguez is bankrolling much of El Rey himself, and already has a quarter of a billion dollars for production. And Revolt's also off to a good start, says general manager Keith Clinkscales.
KEITH CLINKSCALES: It's easy for the skeptics to say, well, they don't expect these networks to work, you know? But I don't think anybody sent that memo to Sean Combs.
BARCO: Bilingual babies, classic Black TV shows, millenial's music and action-packed Latinos. Ultimately, it's viewers who'll decide whether the new networks are worth having Comcast become an even bigger conglomerate. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
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