Gaining the Digital World and Keeping Their Soul: How Minority Entrepreneurs Can Stimulate Broadband Adoption, Part I

by Joycelyn James on February 24, 2013

MMTC BBSJ 2013 Boot CampContent is a key driving force behind broadband adoption.  Last year, Pew reported that almost half of those without broadband service at home didn’t believe anything on the Internet was relevant to their daily lives.  This proves that, even in the digital age, content – delivered via desktop or mobile device – is still king.

Now, you might be scratching your head, wondering which Internet these non-adopters speak of.  As those of us with broadband can attest, the scope of content available online is rapidly expanding, particularly content targeted toward minorities and multi-lingual audiences.  As a working parent, online content keeps me engaged and connected.  Between the email links from my septuagenarian father, status updates from fellow moms, photos from my niece in college, and research relating to my work in media and policy, I find plenty of engaging content.  I love this stuff!

But this isn’t about those of us in the choir, so to speak.  We know what works for us.  How do we spread the “good news” about the scope of relevant content for those who haven’t adopted the technology and don’t know how it relates to their lives?  While we’re on the topic, how can we ensure that minority-owned businesses are creating content and mobile apps that serve the information needs of their communities?

These were among the topics discussed in the “Next Generation Digital Media Entrepreneurs’ Boot Camp,” which kicked off MMTC’s Broadband and Social Justice Summit last month.  “There is a chasm in awareness of what’s online,” said Lateef A. Sarnor, head of Multicultural Sales and Marketing Strategy with AOL.  Sarnor highlighted that while there are a few online sensations, such as Issa Rae (honored by MMTC in 2012 for her Web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl), that have attracted the attention of minority communities while receiving mainstream recognition, “there is a ton of African American targeted content beyond this.”

Adoption Solutions: Meeting People Where They Are

One of the easiest ways to get someone’s attention is to discuss something in which they’ve demonstrated interest.  In media, minorities have a strong affinity for broadcasting, where most minorities turn for news and information, particularly Spanish speakers.  As more minorities begin to use smartphones to go online, wireless broadband and accessibility of mobile apps create a unique opportunity for broadcasters to engage with their audience, explained York Eggleston, IV, CEO of Semantic Labs and cofounder of the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs (NAMDE).  Creating mobile and online platforms for broadcasters enables them to interact with their audience and gather data on their interests, stated Sarnor.  This, in turn, allows broadcasters to better serve their audience on their original TV or radio platform.

“My mission is to connect the dots between content and content providers with the right audience,” states Sarnor, who has helped AOL’s Huff Post Black Voices to become the top online destination for African Americans.  “TV is no longer the ‘first screen,’” meaning that those with mobile devices no longer turn to television first for news, information, and/or entertainment.  “The first screen is your device, your phone.”

“Traditional media has to continue to embrace new media,” remarked Erin Horne McKinney, Executive Director of NAMDE.  “New media really is a catalyst for change.”

How Broadband is Delivering Information Affluence

Historically, new content distribution platforms have been focused on how to make sure a message is available to the widest possible audience.  According to Shawna Renee Odour, founder of Green Lioness Media and host/producer at SiriusXM, this was the reasoning behind the development of satellite radio in the 1990s, whose creators promoted “information affluence for people all over the world.”  Today, broadband seeks to achieve similar goals, and media companies are finding creative ways to attract audiences from other platforms to content online.  For example, SiriusXM, which provides satellite radio service, does this by creating a specific suite of programming for Spanish-speaking consumers that is only available online.

Where social justice is concerned, broadband brings information to our communities that we might not receive elsewhere.  Activists need to understand how content can be leveraged to sustain the energy and momentum necessary to create a movement, something no social media-generated campaign has fully grasped according to Navarrow Wright, CTO at Interactive One.  Discussing the recent success of social media campaigns to address gun violence and questionable cable programming, Wright commented that social activists need to determine how to have a sustainable impact on issues affecting minority communities such as education and unemployment.

Odour put it succinctly. “You have movements and then you have moments,” she said.  Media is a business, and entrepreneurs struggle between creating content that is profitable and content that addresses social justice issues.  In order to do both, “Entrepreneurs and content creators have to be creative, have to be brave, and have to be ready to fight,” Odour stated.  “You can’t take the easy way out.”

It is clear that minority entrepreneurs are ready to roll up their sleeves and rumble.  In the second part of this series, I’ll discuss how these content creators are taking advantage of opportunities in the mobile app market.

  • Joycelyn F. James

    Joycelyn F. James, Esq. is a graduate of the Institute for Communications Law Studies at the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law. She currently serves as the Cathy Hughes Fellow for the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, where she works on matters that focus on the advancement of minority and women’s entrepreneurship in the nation’s media and telecommunications industries.

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