To understand what the genesis of the idea for Impact Network was and how the company has captured its audience through modern technology and marketing strategies, Digital Journal spoke with Impact Network’s Royal Jackson (Impact’s creative director).
Digital Journal: Why did you start the Impact Network?
Royal Jackson: The impact network started in 2010. My father and my mother started the network to bring positive change in the lives of people everywhere, but they had a specific heart for the African American community. As faith leaders in the community for over 30 years, they had seen the hardships and the challenges within the community firsthand. It was their own community experience that led them to take their knowledge, real- life experience, and vision and put that together into a media format for the purpose of reaching more people.
My parents also realized that there was a gap in the marketplace from a business perspective – there were lots of faith based driven TV networks, but none had minority ownership. Other faith-based shows were not focused on serving a faith based African American audience. Around 79 percent of African Americans claim to be Christian, and out of 48 million, that is a very high number in terms of saying faith is very important to them. My parents wanted to fill the void by reaching an African American audience.
DJ: How were you able to grow the household reach from 200,000 to 90 million today?
Jackson: It was a very strategic process- there were steps involved. Being that my Dad has been in the community as a pastor, you interface with many different types of arenas and sectors. So, from his community work, my Dad had a large network when it came to community organizations. When we talk about faith, my Dad also had the support of these organizations in the African American community. The pastors in these networks within the inner-city churches also connect with others outside the community as well. We were in 200,000 homes when we began and were local in Detroit. Our strategy was to collect petitions and support from all these groups in order to gain validation and credibility in terms of numbers to begin with.
We were offering a certain value in the marketplace that was not being offered anywhere else. We had to communicate that value and vision to the cable companies and the satellite networks, and many times they did not understand it. The cable and satellite companies did not understand the weight and magnitude of this audience, nor did they understand the importance of the network to the American culture at large.
They had no idea that people like Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston and other large superstars were rooted in faith when they began and that’s how they birthed the type of career they had in Hollywood. The most well-known expressions of black soul and gospel were rooted in the church- so a lot of the value systems and the strength that was given to them in their youth from the church helped them to be successful in life later. The cable companies do not understand how the inner-city church and the black church is interrelated with contemporary culture. These companies simply did not comprehend the cultural relevancy and underestimated the size of audience interested in these programs; they did not get it.
We began casting the vision – My role as a creator was painting this picture so that we could turn all the “No’s” into a “Yes’s”, and get them to understand what we were doing. That is how we began to grow- we went from cable company to cable company, satellite company to satellite company- we pitched our package, we prayed, we believed, we were very bold with our case and more than anything, we did not stop, we kept going during the “No’s” Once you get one opportunity you make good with that opportunity and you leverage that opportunity into greater opportunities and that’s what we did- that’s how we grew from 200,000 homes to 93 million homes: we took our vision, we presented it, we persevered through the “No’s”, and when we got our opportunity, we took advantage of it. We upgraded our content, we began to bring on higher profile programs, we continued to innovate. Every stage was a stage of innovation, and then we would go to the next company and say, hey we have this and now we have more to work with, and we began to get more Yes answers and then we aggregated all of that up into 93 million homes.
DJ: What are the biggest challenges of being the head of a diverse media network?
Jackson: It’s not so much the diversity side that’s the challenge other than it’s the independent nature of our business. As an independent company, the challenge is that you are not playing with the same pool of cash and publicity that a lot of the larger holding companies are playing with. A lot of the big holding companies have lots of money and there is just no end to it. We have had to be very resourceful in how we have grown our brand and have had to take more of a methodical, conservative pace throughout to do so.
A lot of these other companies in media grow super-fast because they pour a lot of money into it, and they have the money to do so. The benefit of growing slow is we have been able to really learn our audience and really cultivate something we believe our audience really is investing in and when you’re dealing in a media landscape now where everyone is just going to change to the next channel or find the next platform, it’s so important to have a core audience and the people who really are invested in your programming. So, while we may not have had big financial investors, our viewers were our investors and they continue to be our investors- they invest their time, and they have donated to support the network, and it has been very valuable. So resourcing has been one of the biggest challenges as an independent.
DJ: What does this mean financially?
Jackson: As a diversity driven company, it goes back to budgets as well. We hear a lot of commitment for having diversity and commitment towards diversity funds within companies, but that is very new- it was not like that before, and we are still trying to see whether those who are pledging are likely to make good with companies like the Impact Network. There is only 3% of minority ownership across the board in broadcast media- I’m talking every other race and culture too outside of the predominant culture. Between Asian, black, Hispanic, and Indian, all those categories are sharing 3 percent of total minority ownership so there is 97% that is not represented.
So, when you are trying to offer something in the marketplace that is different than what is already out there it can be challenging because people do not necessarily want to invest in something that they feel is risky. They may think this has worked in the past, look at the numbers- and we are saying we know those numbers exist but look at what the content that is coming out of our community is doing for our people- we need to change it.
But people do not necessarily want to invest in that all the time. So that is just a challenge there and we have been up for the challenge and we have stuck around and with it and we feel that when you’re an anomaly you just have to get used to it and work with what you have and just throw it into the next opportunity.
DJ: How did you target the right audience?
Jackson: But that is really our challenge- knowing who in your audience that may want to invest. For those who do not know your audience, it’s tough because you’re trying to get them to see what you do. To get financial investment, you must have someone who truly believes in what you are doing and wants to support it and is not wanting to take over or take control of what you are doing. You need those who say I believe you have what it takes to succeed, and I am willing to support it and still reap benefits- as an investor, you want to reap benefits but a lot of times what you set out to support may change because it gets motivated by money and is no longer motivated by the mission. At that point, you may have someone who is no longer supporting your mission because now they are controlling what you say and how you say it and what you do and what you go after. Diversity media just does not have the backing- that’s the simple way to say it.
That is why you see a majority of blacked owned networks that cannot stay independent. They simply do not have the money to produce the content, and they don’t have money to produce the awareness to drive people to that content. Broadcast is a very expensive thing, so you must sell your business to even be able to tell your stories. If you are bought by the wrong investors and cannot tell your story, it’s like ok, we have more garbage now, more fast food to put into the souls of people when you were trying to give them something that was going to nourish them. Now you cannot because you are just not supported, so that is really the big issue.
DJ: Why did Impact Network make the decision to expand beyond faith-based content exclusively to inspirational content?
Jackson: It’s always been in our mission to be a life enhancement platform that is going to create positive impact in people’s lives. It was always in our mission to provide empowerment, education, enrichment, and entertainment to promote the spiritual, social, economic, financial, and emotional wellbeing of our viewers. We have just reached a point now where it is time to build the other pillars of reaching out to our audience and doing what our name states- “Making an Impact” Spiritual impact was always just the foundational pillar because we understand that if people are going to change, they are going to change from the inside out. We want to provide that type of spiritual foundation and structure for people to build their lives upon. The spiritual foundation is the base for financial, economic, educational, and emotional well-being. We know that the spirit of a person is always going to be the core. We did not just decide that we wanted to change our motto, this has always been our motto, and we have just reached the point in our journey where it’s time to take the next step.
DJ: How is Impact Network more than just a TV channel on cable?
Jackson: We can reference the answer I had on the last one, we talked about our partnership and our activity in the lives of actual people and really being a place where we are a bridge from what you see to the real change and solutions happening day to day.
DJ: What new types of programming you are launching this year?
Jackson: Our goal is to begin to bring about more enriching and entertaining programming- bringing the enrichment side of life and the entertainment side of life together. These include programs that will help our viewers become healthier, wealthier, and wiser, as well as entertainment. As far as formats, we are going to start with specials and special presentations, documentaries, and what they call non-scripted content. We are looking to create about 4 original shows in those categories. Once we create our original programming, the goal is to leverage that into some licensed programming where we will buy programs from other licensed creators who have not yet found a platform. There is a lot of content out there right now where some are lacking an outlet. Several producers, directors, and writers have not had the chance to showcase their talents so our goal will be to do a short run of original programming while taking some licensed content from these creators. In addition to that, we have been doing some boxing.
We have a boxing series going on in the networks so you could see we are really shifting where you will be able to get everything from the bible to boxing on the Impact Network. We have a music partnership with RCA Inspiration and Sony RCA Inspiration. We are producing some music-driven programming. A lot of this is how we are going to start revving that engine up for more than just the paid programming. We will be creating some “count-down” shows and some other types of music plug ins where the artists can come in and host these shows or do interviews. Supporting the community through the pandemic has largely been our focus for a while, so a lot of or original programming has taken a back seat to some of the needs that are happening in the world right now.
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