Richard Parsons: Industry Needs More Diversity in Ownership

Richard Parsons to be feted at MMCA Awards Dinner
(Image credit: MMCA)

Media ownership among people of color needs to increase in order to improve industry diversity and inclusion efforts, according to veteran media executive and former Time Warner Chairman and CEO Richard Parsons. 

Parsons recently spoke to Multichannel News regarding his thoughts on the industry's ongoing diversity efforts as he prepares to be honored tonight (Nov. 11) by the Multicultural Media & Correspondents Association for his long and distinguished career in media.

The media diversity advocacy group’s fifth annual Multicultural Media Correspondents Dinner will also honor journalist Lisa Ling, Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Jacky Rosen, NPR host Maria Hinojosa, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Revolt TV COO Detavio Samuels. Comedians Sherri Shepherd and Kym Whitley will host the virtual event, which recognizes media industry legends and luminaries of color. 

“The event is significant, especially the way the country has been in an uproar over systemic racism," said Whitley. "People of color are coming to the forefront -- especially in the media. We need to push them forward, and this is an event that honors those leaders and brings awareness to their efforts.”  

Parsons talked about his upcoming honor as well as the industry's diversity efforts as part of the interview, an edited version of which appears below.  

Where is the TV industry today in terms of its commitment toward increasing diversity and inclusion within its executive ranks? 

We are making inroads, but in the area where MMCA is focused -- ownership within the various distribution platforms -- we’re not moving as fast as we need to in my judgement. That’s been a slower go compared to making sure that more African Americans and people of color appear on the screen. Who determines what stories get produced and shown are up to the owners, and we still have a way to go there in terms of diversity and inclusion. 

Have the recent social injustice protests throughout the country helped magnify some of the issues that we’re seeing with regards to diversity within the C-suites? 

[The protests] signify a new awareness that we’re seeing in the country. I was around in the 60s when we were dealing with some of the very issues we’re talking about now, including racial discrimination in housing, education and employment. We’ve made some progress since then, but we’re not there yet. We’re experiencing a re-awakening of people to the fact that this is a problem and we have to deal with it. There’s no one silver bullet or key to the kingdom, but one of the ways forward is to have more diversity in the ownership of the institutions that bring us together and also pull us apart. Getting more diverse ownership of the media will help tell stories and reveal things that heretofore have not been put in front of people to consider and deal with. 

Does the continual growth of the digital platform offer more potential media ownership opportunities for people of color? 

The world is moving toward the digital space, and the barriers to entry on the digital end are lower than they are on the linear side. The big network conglomerates are blocking positions to get into the linear game, whereas content creators and distributors can move into the digital space more easily and more cheaply. I look for more progress on that side, and the good news is that’s where the public is going anyway. 

What’s next for Richard Parsons?

I’m mostly retired. I have a few investments that I’m following, and I’m still chairing a number of institutions that require attention, including the Apollo Theater Foundation, the Jazz Foundation of America [and] the Rockefeller Foundation. So I have a nice balance. 

From your perspective, how significant is this MMCA honor given all of your accomplishments throughout your career?

That’s a good question that I didn’t anticipate (laughs). It’s always humbling to be recognized for something that was part of your job. It’s a humbling experience, and I suppose that’s a good thing. My grandmother always said that humility and grace are the two qualities of a true gentleman, and occasionally I need to be reminded about the humility part. I think the MMCA is an important, new organization and I endorse their mission. Anything I can do to help give some visibility to that mission was the major cause of accepting the award. 

R. Thomas Umstead

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.