Special to the AmNews
Traci Blunt, executive vice president of corporate marketing and corporate affairs with the Urban Movie Channel—the newest venture for Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television and founder and chairman of the RLJ Companies—has the kind of melodic, honey-dipped voice that could soothe, settle and persuade explosive arguments from the danger zone into a historic “conflict resolved” slot. As the spokesperson for a new chapter in digital network history, her words are an anointing, given the weight of UMC’s founder.
What is UMC? It’s a digital streaming channel that launched in November. In preparing to interview key executives, I was provided a link to preview UMC’s current content and my jaw dropped. Until the end of 2015, the monthly fee is $2.99, which is less than a cup of coffee.
Think about it. UMC is a history-making company in the new digital Wild West, and it’s under the guidance of a true visionary. It’s not my opinion, it’s a fact, and from the consumer and the creative side, it’s a great time to be alive.
“Johnson’s vision is to always is to be ‘first in a space,’” Blunt said in a tone that confirmed her respect for the Johnson legacy.
“First in a space,” although a respectful statement, is not really placing the “proverbial cherry” on top of the “proverbial cupcake.” In 1979, Johnson saw a gaping hole in the cable industry and founded BET, which was the first cable network targeting the African-American market. It launched in 1981. In 2001, Johnson sold BET to Viacom for approximately $3 billion.
Johnson sees a hole in the digital streaming network market, and UMC is that answer.
“Please excuse the noise. I don’t want to take up much of your time, Ms. Blunt,” I said on our first phone interview, which I was conducting inside a noisy, inner-city McDonald’s.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “Johnson is addressing a room of automotive executives, so I have time. If there is time, I wanted to get him on the phone with you.”
Let me frame this for you: billionaire, visionary, leader Robert L. Johnson wants to chat with me? “Ms. Blunt,” I said, “I would be floating like a fairy over a flower.”
Here is part one of my interview with Blunt.
AmNews: What do you want the consumers to know besides the amazing $2.99 a month price?
Blunt: Urban Movie Channel is a digital streaming channel, and part of RLJ Entertainment, which is an entertainment distribution company founded by Bob Johnson. There were two existing digital platforms, one was called Acorn TV, which is leading in British mystery and drama, Johnson owns 64 percent of the Agatha Christie library. We also have a health and fitness digital channel, and what Johnson envisions is always to be ‘first in a space,’ so there is Netflix, Hulu, but there’s nothing that specifically caters to the urban, African-American audience that provides movies, music, stand-up comedy, documentaries, staged plays that you can see anytime you want to on any of your devices.
Why do you feel there is a need for UBC?
There are about 12 million African-American cable households in the country. Most have double premium channels, e.g., HBO, but if you want to watch “Why Did I Get Married 2” you may not see that until they schedule that to be on their channel. However, with Urban Movie Channel, because it’s digital, you can watch urban entertainment whenever you want. The idea is to have a space where we can watch programs that cater to us.
Secondly, there is so much talent out there that doesn’t have an opportunity to show their work to fans. Studios have so many “urban-themed movies” that they’ve already committed to the year. This is an opportunity for talent that’s under-employed out there to have an opportunity to expose their creative work.
I confess until this phone conversation, I didn’t know anything about UMC.
We launched in November, and we started with an existing library that Johnson already had. The idea is simply that we are going to acquire more content. Now we are talking to creative people in the industry about their work and how they can use Urban Movie Channel as a platform to showcase that. We are moving swiftly. We just signed a deal with Starz—that’s a multi-year deal—and we just launched “Fall Out Fridays,” which is all comedy and live performances.
I am confused. Why would a producer not sell their material to, say, Starz, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon?
The good thing is that we are RLJ Entertainment, and we distribute to every outlet that you just mentioned. We are agnostic when it comes to content. RLJ Entertainment is devoted to the development, production and acquisition of feature films, comedy specials, stage plays, documentaries and music content targeting the urban market. Launched initially in 2007 as One Village Entertainment, titles are distributed across multiple platforms, including theatrical, broadcast, Blu-ray/DVD, digital streaming and downloading.
Creatives should know this, if you want to showcase your work with a group that understands where the urban community is coming from, that’s UMC. This is the place. We are your partners, we are here to promote your work and your talent.