Roland Martin Talks ‘Urban One Honors,’ Future of Black-Owned Media

(Image credit: Nu Vision Media )

News media personality Roland Martin, along with along with legendary gospel music singer Erica Campbell, are co-hosting TV One’s Urban One Honors awards show this Sunday (May 16), as the third annual awards event showcases individuals and organizations whose work significantly impacts society and culture. 

Martin, formerly host of TV One’s daily news show News One Now, has recently taken his talents to the digital platform, hosting a daily web-based YouTube series -- #RolandMartinUnfiltered -- which focuses on news and analysis from an African-American perspective. Martin also recently launched a new Facebook Watch series, We Got Next: An Intergenerational Dialogue, which features discussions between youth and elders involved in social activism.

I recently spoke to Martin about his transition to digital media from traditional television and the opportunities the emerging platform affords diverse voices. Martin also discusses the need for more African-American owned news outlets and outlines what needs to be done to create a path for success. An edited version of the interview appears below.

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Picture This: What is the theme and message of this year’s version of the Urban Honors event? 

Roland Martin: The focus this year is specifically on the work that black women have been doing in areas dealing with activism, with COVID, voting rights and things along those lines. That’s what makes this year’s ceremony a lot different than in years past. For me it was pretty cool to be one of the few guys involved with it given this year’s focus.

Picture This: You’ve remained active over the past year even with the media slowdown due to the pandemic. How were you able to navigate through COVID?

RM: It’s been really interesting because we were properly positioned for COVID. When COVID hit the television networks had to pivot, but it highlighted what we were already doing digitally. I had a studio at home, so when COVID hit it was a boon to us because we were already positioned to work remotely, and we saw our numbers grow exponentially. I think that will continue through 2021 and 2022 because I just don’t think we’re going back to so-called normal anytime soon. We’re positioned to be mobile and versatile.

PT: From a news perspective, is the industry moving more toward the digital space as more consumers turn to digital for their information and entertainment?

RM: What we're experiencing right now is market fragmentation. The traditional gatekeepers no longer get to control everything. It used to be that you had no choice but to go to MSNBC, Fox News or CNN for 24-hour news coverage. What we've proven on the digital side is that people will seek out information beyond traditional television. Now look where we are -- CBS has expanded their digital offerings; NBC has created a separate digital channel. We started with 157,000 subscribers on YouTube and now we have more than 770,000 subscribers. If you know how to do it and understand the technology then you can be successful.

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PT: How do we make sure that African-American owned and targeted content providers competed in an otherwise crowded media environment?

RM: What we’re doing right now with distributors and advertising agencies is drawing the line. We’re saying that there’s a reason why Black owned media has been strangled … it’s an abomination that these companies have been spending 1% with black-owned media when they know that black people are spending far more.  [Entertainment Studios CEO] Byron Allen has made it clear that he will sue companies, and I have made it clear that I will shine a light and call you out publicly. If companies have a $2 billion advertising budget, then 10% of that needs to be in black media. That would be a game changer. It means that we can do in one year what it took us 10 years to do. Now you can deal with capacity and you’re able to grow. That’s how we’re able to compete.

PT: So what is the outlook next year for Black-owned media companies? 

RM: I think next year we're going to be having a conversation where black owned media moves from getting 1% of the [advertising] dollars to 5% of the dollars. I believe you're going to see exponential growth. But it is only going to happen if you have people who are willing to stand up. We need major corporate leaders to say this has to change.

PT: What’s next for you and your production company Nu Vision Media?

RM: The next thing for us, and I’ve stated it publicly, is our OTT channels. People will soon be able to access our content on Apple TV, Roku, Samsung TV and other platforms. This environment is great for independent content creators to reach audiences. We also just launched a six-part series with Facebook as part of its “We The Culture” programming Initiative where I create these intergenerational conversations, such as Black Voters Matter co-founder Cliff Albright and Ambassador Andrew Young and young activist Kris Payne with Public Enemy’s Chuck D.

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.