Special Report: Black Excellence in Streaming
Meet three TV veterans developing authentic, compelling shows for an audience that’s eager to stream
Black viewers are streaming video and informational programming in unprecedented numbers, and a group of savvy TV veterans is leading the industry in striving to meet those consumers where they are looking for content.
African-American audiences spend a majority of their viewing time watching streaming services — and 62% of those viewers say streaming is the most relevant platform for stories depicting Black life and culture, according to a recent Nielsen Diverse Intelligence Series report. The three dynamic and uncompromising executives profiled here are dedicated to making sure quality scripted and reality series are streaming — as well as news and informational content — are available to a Black audience with a voracious appetite for authentic, nuanced programming featuring their stories and images.
Brett Dismuke, GM, ALLBLK and WE tv
AMC Networks veteran programming executive Brett Dismuke has his hands full programming across multiple platforms as general manager of both cable network WE tv and streaming service ALLBLK.
Driving Dismuke’s efforts is an ultimate goal of providing quality, entertaining and relevant programming to Black viewers, especially on streaming via ALLBLK. “Many people in my generation grew up with the images we were allowed to have and see,” he said. “Now that we are in a position to control said images, I’m taking on the responsibility of guiding that ship.”
Dismuke oversaw the 2020 rebranding of the streaming service Urban Movie Channel — formerly owned by BET founder Robert Johnson — to ALLBLK and has created a service that features original scripted and reality series, as well as short films targeted to Black viewers. In particular, scripted series such as comedy Partners in Rhyme, starring iconic hip hop artist MC Lyte, as well as drama series A House Divided (which last month launched its fifth season) and Double Cross, have helped Dismuke grow subscribers and audiences for the service over consecutive quarters, according to AMC.
“Our goal is to make ALLBLK the No. 1 service in the world for Black stories and storytellers, and Brett Dismuke is a leader who is up for that ambitious objective,” AMC Networks president of entertainment and AMC Studios Dan McDermott said. “He expertly continues to not only develop unique, gripping content for ALLBLK — super-serving the audience — but also finds opportunity and success in the targeted alignments of WE tv and ALLBLK with incredible proficiency. Both platforms continue to grow under his skillful leadership.”
For Dismuke, the ability to draw from popular reality content from WE tv such as series Love After Lockup, as well as offer original scripted comedy series like Millennials and dramas like Monogamy, gives ALLBLK a large library of diverse content that explores all aspects of the Black experience.
“I want people to view ALLBLK as a trailblazer in the fairness of equal representation,” he said. “Nothing in life is 100% good, and sharing the depictions of Black and Brown narratives should be no different. I want ALLBLK to be considered a truth teller and an equal sharer of our stories.”
The entrepreneurial producer and executive, who ran his own company, So Chi Entertainment, and also served as CEO of independent urban production company The Swirl Group prior to joining AMC Networks, said it is critical that Black consumers have viewing options across all platforms.
“Access to a reflection of one’s self can make or break how one views themselves,” he said. “It is great that some mainstream services and networks offer a small section of Black content, but it is a complete game-changer to have services dedicated to highlighting the vast array of our stories.”
Devin Griffin, Executive VP and GM, BET Plus
BET’s efforts to expand its iconic linear cable brand to streaming with the launch of BET Plus in 2019 paid off handsomely in 2022 with Emmy Award nominations for signature comedy series The Ms. Pat Show and drama series The Porter.
Leading BET Plus’s charge to reach Black viewers on streaming is Devin Griffin, who has overseen operations for the service since its launch. Under Griffin’s tutelage, the service offers more than 2,000 hours of content, including a bevy of original series from such diverse producers as Tyler Perry, Kenya Barris, Lee Daniels, Pat Williams, Kirk Franklin and other leading Black content creators.
“BET Plus puts us in a position to speak to the diversity of perspectives and interests that are within the Black community and those that love Black programming and stories,” Griffin said. “We believe that our edge is that we can tell stories from a place that is unique, but is broadly appealing and relatable.”
BET Plus has developed popular series including Tyler Perry’s Bruh, All The Queen’s Men, Tyler Perry’s Ruthless, The Family Business, Kingdom Business and First Wives Club — as well as series launching in 2023 including Average Joe starring Dion Cole. In 2022 the service struck gold with Emmy nominations for The Porter, which earned an Outstanding Choreography for a Scripted Program nod for its portrayal of Black Pullman workers in the aftermath of World War I, and original comedy The Ms. Pat Show, which garnered a nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series. The series follows the exploits of a convicted felon turned suburban wife, mother and comedian.
The Ms. Pat Show star J. Bernard Calloway said the show’s Emmy nomination is verification of the quality of content that BET Plus is producing under Griffin’s leadership.
“It’s great to be part of a project that has made history for [BET Plus],” he said. “The nomination is basically the respect of our peers and the recognition of how great the show is.”
Griffin said that recognition is helping to build greater awareness for BET Plus and confirms its strategic business plan is headed in the right direction.
“One of the big driving forces for me is being able to contribute to expanding the ways Black stories and experiences get portrayed,” he said. “With BET Plus, we’ve been able to expand the canvas that we’re able to paint on.”
Geraldine Moriba, SVP of News, Entertainment and Empowerment, theGrio
Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning producer, journalist and Stanford University Brown Institute research scientist Geraldine Moriba is successfully mixing the Allen Media Group-owned theGrio’s originally-produced news and information programming across multiple distribution platforms to create a successful media formula targeting a Black audience.
To complement theGrio’s signature news and entertainment website and basic cable network theGrio.tv, Moriba in 2022 launched theGrio streaming network and mobile app dedicated to programming about and featuring unique Black voices. She also launched theGrio Black Podcast Network, offering more than five weekly podcasts on political, social and entertainment issues affecting Black culture.
“Geraldine continues to pave the way in delivering high-quality, African-American-focused content,” AMG founder, chairman and CEO Byron Allen said.
Extending theGrio’s reach beyond media, Moriba — who prior to joining theGrio in 2021 produced documentary series for PBS such as Sinking Cities and Chasing the Dream through production company, Moriba Media — also developed and oversaw theGrio Awards, celebrating excellence in entertainment and social justice. The inaugural event aired in November on CBS and Paramount Plus.
Moriba wants to position theGrio as a global brand that serves Black consumers with quality, informative programming wherever they are consuming content.
“Right now, theGrio is the largest Black newsroom in the nation, and our reporting is unapologetic,” she said. “When you couple that with the entertainment and lifestyle value, it makes us very successful at targeting a diverse multimedia audience.”
Allen Media Group’s purchase of Black News Channel assets this past July bolstered what already was arguably one of the leading Black-oriented news and entertainment websites. Moriba has already integrated former Black News Channel on-air personalities Marc Lamont Hill and Ebony K. Williams into its news and informational strategy by creating daily news shows for both that will run across theGrio’s multiplatform offerings.
Moriba’s ultimate goal is to ensure Black issues and stories are heard across all platforms, she said.
“Without doubt, Black people are central to the fabric of American culture, and there are not enough platforms telling our stories,” she said. “Our mission is to build a portfolio of a broad representation of Black people across the spectrum. We are trying to get people of globally varied backgrounds, gender identification, ages and sexual orientations, with the driver being Black culture to help us move forward faster and stronger.” ■
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.