Thursday, July 18, 2019

Under the Glittering Lights

April 22, 2019 by  
Filed under Feature

‘Technology has opened the opportunity to tell our stories’

Black Image Magazine caught up with BET founder Bob Johnson for a chat about his newest venture and thoughts on getting back into Las Vegas gaming.

BET founder Bob Johnson

Mr. Johnson, it’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak to you. You are an icon, and we thank you for creating BET and being the first to bring Black television media ownership to the forefront. What are you doing now?

I have an all-urban streaming and movie channel that is the first of its kind — and in my opinion, the best so far. I think there’s going to be more people bringing content over streaming and digital networks. That will not only be available in the United States, but globally — and when you look at the Black diaspora, we know that there are millions of people of color who want to receive content from the U.S., the same as other countries receive from the majority population. I think technology has opened the opportunity to tell our stories without being edited by advertisers or movie studio heads. That’s one of the benefits of streaming and digital: people can subscribe and get the kind of programming they want. This will create an ecosystem of African-American content providers, African-American talent, and African-American consumers.

The recent Academy Awards honored more African-American talent than ever before. Do you think there is a shift or change whereby Hollywood is embracing black talent?

I wouldn’t go as far as to say there is a big change. I think there is a heightened awareness by people who make the decisions with the awards and academies to acknowledge the people who are producing the content. And more importantly, the people who are watching the media content. African-Americans consume more media content than [other demographics]. So, there is an awakening of the academies and all the other award shows such as SAG and the Golden Globes. There all kinds of media platforms coming on like Netflix that has a lot of content and Amazon is doing the same. I just read that Apple is launching a streaming channel — they did a deal with Oprah. There will be more African-American content, and if consumers enjoy the programing, it will be a benefit. If the media critics and the Hollywood decision-makers reflect that, then you will see more African-Americans recognized for their talent and creativity.

At one time you were interested in opening a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip. Do you still have those aspirations?

I always thought about gaming as an opportunity for African-American business development and African-American entertainment. I served on the board of the Hilton Hotel when Hilton was big in gaming. I know a lot about the Moulin Rouge Hotel and Casino in Vegas. I did make an effort to build a casino here in Las Vegas. Currently, I am involved in gaming in the Caribbean, and I am not completely divorced from gaming. I see it as a business opportunity — and if the right opportunity presents itself, I will consider it here in Vegas. I think I was one of the first African-Americans who received a gaming license from Las Vegas. It’s something I understand and a business I know — so it’s very possible we can see ourselves coming back in the gaming business.

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