Magic Johnson creates new Aspire cable network targeting blacks

Magic Johnson. AP

Magic Johnson. AP

Entrepreneur and NBA Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson is creating a new cable network targeting blacks with partner GMC TV, an Atlanta-based cable network whic calls it’s programming “uplifting” entertainment.

Aspire will be headquartered in Atlanta and feature a mix of movies, documentaries, short films, music, comedy, visual and performing arts and faith and inspirational programs. The network is just starting to pick up programming to be ready to start airing in June.

Charles Humbard, president and CEO of GMC, said Aspire will focus on “family friendly” fare. Humbard said he hopes to include higher-end performing arts programming and documentaries generally ignored by some of these other networks. He plans to hire 20 to 25 extra employees to work with Aspire locally.

Aspire is entering an increasingly crowded field. Its most direct competitors are BET, Centric, TV One and the six-month-old Atlanta-based Bounce TV, which is available for viewers without cable or satellite. While the five broadcast networks have abandoned this territory, some cable networks such as WE TV, VH1 and TBS have filled some of the gaps with original shows with heavily black viewership such as “Braxton Family Values” (WE), “Basketball Wives” (VH1) and “For Better or Worse” (TBS).

Aspire will be available on Comcast’s digital basic package. Comcast created this independent channel and three others as part of its agreement with the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice when it merged with NBC Universal. Comcast reaches about 22 to 23 million homes, many in metro Atlanta.

I couldn’t reach Magic for an interview. But he did talk to the L.A. Times:

“This is so exciting for me, I’m pinching myself,” Johnson said 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.”

Brad Adgate, Research Director at New York-based Horizon Media, said Aspire faces a very crowded digital world. “It’s an expensive concession Comcast had to make,” he said. “These are costly ventures. Throw in online video, and audiences are hard to come by.”

Johnson, 52, has had success in several business arenas after leaving the NBA for the final time in 1996, including movie theaters, food services, Lakers ownership and movie studio.

The three other cable networks Comcast is required to start will be led by Sean “Diddy” Combs (”Revolt” in 2013), focused on music and social media. A third Hispanic-targeted channel in 2014 will be run by director Robert Rodriguez, and Spanish-language TV veteran Constantino “Said” Schwarz. The fourth will be aimed at very young children and their parents.

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