Interview Date: September 30, 2008
Interview Location: Denver, CO
Interviewer: KC Neel
Collection: Hauser Collection
NEEL: We are here with Tracy Jenkins-Winchester. She is the president and CEO of ColoursTV. Tracy, let’s start at the very beginning. Talk to me a little bit about where you grew up, how you grew up, what did you want to be when you grew up?
WINCHESTER: Well, I am a New Englander. I am definitely a Northeastern kid even though I’ve been living in Colorado now for about 22-23 years. My roots are firmly in Massachusetts where I grew up and went to Boston College. When I was about 11 years old I discovered Senator Brooke, for whatever reason. I don’t know why all of the sudden my head turned to politics but it did. That’s probably because he was the only African-American senator at the time. I asked my father, “Well, how do you become a United States senator? What do you do to do that?” And he said, “Well, you’ve got to go to law school first,” and I said, “Oh, okay, I’ll go to law school.” And so at 11 years of age I decided that’s what I’ll do if that’s what it takes to become a United States senator. At the same time, because I was a child of the ’60s and the ’70s, Civil Rights was definitely a very big issue in our family and in the country, so I decided also at that time to become a civil rights attorney.
NEEL: So you consider that the biggest thing of your childhood, really. That’s a big thing for an 11 year old to come to grips with. That’s impressive.
WINCHESTER: I went to Catholic schools all my life even all the way through law school–I went to Jesuit law school. Interestingly enough, just one year earlier, at the age of ten, I was recruited by the Sister in fifth grade to become a nun – the nuns are good for recruiting early on. I remember looking her in the eye and saying to her, “Sister, that’s really nice of you to think of me, but I really want to have a family,” and I wasn’t sure what that all meant except, I knew I wanted to be a mommy and have children. So that really was the first goal, I think, that I identified for myself – that I wanted to not become a nun.
NEEL: How big a role did television play in some of your decision-making and watching some of that unfold? What are your first recollections of cable?
WINCHESTER: Well, actually, I always loved TV, absolutely loved it. While I was in college I majored in political science and communications, and so decided that while I was in school, well, okay, I could be a communications lawyer instead of a civil rights lawyer. So that allowed me to dabble in communication. In 1977, my senior year, I discovered cable television and thought cable TV was just fantastic. I wrote my honors thesis on cable television entitled, “A Blue Sky Promise,” because it opened up so many avenues. Before cable TV you only had ABC, NBC–the big three. Fox wasn’t even around when I was in college. So when I saw cable television and saw the opportunity for all of these different channels, well, then that meant there were now more opportunities to get into television than had existed with the big three, where the barriers were so high and it was so difficult to break in. So I thought cable was just fantastic. It was a wonderful opportunity for people to break into television.
NEEL: What was your first experience with it? Was it just watching it? Were you exposed to the business side of it?
WINCHESTER: Actually my first experience was strictly through research. I did not know about cable until I moved to Washington D.C. after college and actually saw cable. We had a forerunner of cable; in my household back in the early ’70s we had something like a pay-per-view, even before cable. So my first experience with having television outside of free TV broadcast television was really in my home. I guess we were part of some experiment with pay TV. I saw To Sir With Love, the movie with Sidney Poitier, back in the early ’70s or late ’60s at my house. I don’t even know how my father paid for it, but anyway we had a little box and we saw pay TV. So that was my first actual experience but it wasn’t until I did the research in college about the whole fundamentals of the business of cable television.
NEEL: Was cable explained to you in school as part of your education? I guess in ’77 there was probably a little bit more news about that, at that point.
WINCHESTER: I think so. I couldn’t tell you exactly. I would imagine it was somewhere… when we were in academia, at that time everything was coming our way. All kinds of information came my way and I probably just gravitated to it and decided to do my thesis on it.
NEEL: Now you mentioned that your first job was in Washington. Talk to us a little bit about your first job in Washington.
WINCHESTER: Well, because I had two loves, my love of politics and my love of communication, I decided to pursue the political arena. That was because I had friends in Washington D.C. who were working on the Hill and I said, “Well, okay, I can do that.” So I went ahead and applied for a job. At that time Senator Edbrook from Massachusetts was in office. I applied for a position and received it and worked there as an aide for about a year and a half. I had baptism by fire because he lost the election that year to Paul Tsongas and so then I was out of a job before I barely got in there. Then I was fortunate to get a job with a congressman from Los Angeles. So I spent about eight years in Washington D.C. after college and four of those years I spent working on the Hill by day and going to Georgetown Law at night.
NEEL: Busy girl!
WINCHESTER: Yeah, yeah, very busy.
NEEL: Was there a particular experience that might have been integral to your moving toward the cable industry as a career when you were in Washington?
WINCHESTER: Well, this is something that I tell everyone – someone gave me this great bit of advice. They said write down your 20-year plan. Where do you want to be 20 years from now? In 1979 I had been working on the Hill now for about two years and I asked myself, “Where do I want to be in 1999?” I still had two passions, one for politics and one for communications. So I wrote two plans: I wrote one plan where I would eventually run for office, I think I put down Lieutenant Governor for the state of Virginia, because I was living in that area; and then the other plan was to have ownership in a broadcast property, and it was very interesting because I didn’t want to have ownership just by myself. I wanted to be with a consortium of African Americans because I wanted the ability to have ownership over a broadcast property so that we could show positive images of people of color. I felt that it was important to be part of a group, and it may have been that I figured–as expensive as it was to own broadcast property–I probably needed other people to be able to foot the bill. I don’t know if I thought I could do it all by myself, but I do remember believing that a consortium of people could have an influence on shaping the images of African Americans and other people of color.
NEEL: That’s prophetic because in 1999 that’s when CoLours started.
WINCHESTER: I know! That’s exactly what happened. I tell every young person that comes to me, I tell them write your 20-year plan and that way you can figure out what it is that you want to do and what you don’t want to do. And in your 20s it doesn’t matter. If you start one job and you work there for two years and then you decide this isn’t what you want to do, it’s okay. You can move on and do something different, but at least have some idea of what direction you want to go. So clearly I had two directions and I had decided, probably by 1985 when I graduated from law school, that I would go in the direction of communications via cable versus staying in the D.C. area and getting into the political arena and into elective politics.
NEEL: How did you end up at Jones?
WINCHESTER: Again, it was just pure fate. I was in Georgetown Law School and they have a great job searching office to help you find a job after you graduate. At least 1/3 of Georgetown’s graduating class does not practice law and that’s because it’s in Washington. You’re a lobbyist, you work for gas and oil, you work for all different kinds of companies, you work in government, so there are a lot of options and different opportunities. You don’t have to just practice in a law firm. So I was just perusing, looking at what was out there, what was available, and happened upon this fellowship opportunity called the Walter Kaitz Foundation Fellowship. It was only in its third year. They were soliciting for their third year class, and I was dating a gentleman in the law school at the time who was doing a clerkship in Atlanta. I said, well, okay, let me apply for this fellowship and that way after the end of our clerkship and fellowship we can get together and live wherever we need to live. And so that’s what made me decide to go with the fellowship. It was temporary enough that I could then do something else afterward if I chose to. Well, it turns out, that my fellowship was in Colorado and 22 years later I’m still in Colorado. So it was definitely destiny for me to have gone through the Walter Kaitz Foundation and to have ended up at Jones Intercable, where I stayed there for 11 years. From there I went to the Family Channel and from there, on to CoLoursTV.
NEEL: Talk a little bit about being a Kaitz Fellow because it’s a bit of an exclusive club. Thought the classes are small, the experiences must have been pretty extraordinary. I’ve noticed that a lot of the people who become Kaitz fellows go on to do great things in the industry.
WINCHESTER: Well, I think at the very beginning, the premise of the Walter Kaitz Foundation fellowship was to bring in high achievers and place them in the cable industry. At that point, in 1985–which was the third class–there were not enough people of color in management positions in the cable industry. And so what they were trying to do was almost like a quick fix. How do we bring people in that can be managers and hit the ground right from the start, versus waiting for them to start at the entry level and then wait 20 years before they could get into executive positions? So that was it. When you bring in high achievers, they’re going to do well. They’re going to flourish and either they’re going to like cable or they’re not going to like cable. You can’t be lukewarm about this industry – you either love it or you don’t want to be involved. That’s what I found in a lot of cases, that for some people cable really wasn’t their cup of tea. At that time, and I daresay even now, it was and still is very entrepreneurial, depending on what side of the industry you’re on. If you’re into the telephony side and on the broadband side and not the traditional video side, you’ll find that cable is still very entrepreneurial in spirit and I believe that was the case in ’85 and that just doesn’t fit for everyone.
NEEL: What would you consider your most valuable learning experiences at Jones and at Fox Family? And, let me back up here a little bit, what made you want to go from the operating side of the house to the programming side?
WINCHESTER: Well, the operating side, which is the side I started on – you really get a true feel for the business. When you start on the operators’ side you understand the metrics, the economics, and the breadth and vision of the cable industry. Content is king–we all know that, but how you get it there? How you deliver it to the consumer, and on what different platforms you give it to the consumer are extremely important issues. True, the consumer still is making their decisions on the content, but the delivery is still very important when you talk about convenience now and how people want to see their content delivered to them. They don’t want to be stuck in a chair and have to wait: Okay, it’s TV time at 8:00, “must-see TV” is at 8:00, or National Stay At Home week – what was that about? National Stay At Home Week? Nobody stays at home for the TV anymore. That’s just not the way it’s done. I know the young people want to see television content on their terms, at the times that they want to see it, when you’re in the mood to watch it, and it’s not about being at home at 8:00 to watch their favorite episode. So I think that having been on the operator side made me more valuable on the programming side. By understanding the business, I was able to come back in and talk to the operators about the value of our content. My time at Family was an excellent preparation for my endeavor with CoLours Television. Lessons that I’ve learned, coming from a legal background, are the nuts and bolts of transactional work for the most part–dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. I learned on the operator side true business. I also think my most valuable experience was learning from Glenn Jones. He is the master of building a business, and basically the lessons that I learned from him have been invaluable for me in developing CoLours Television. When I joined Fox on the Family Channel, it was owned by Pat Robertson for about nine months, and then, the last two years that I was working there it was owned by Haim Saban and Rupert Murdoch and went by Fox Family, which is today’s ABC Family. Haim Saban, I thought was very intriguing. I learned a lot from him in the sense that he’s the one that had the… what do you call those little guys?
NEEL: Oh – the turtles. Ninja Turtles!
WINCHESTER: Ninja Turtles… no, not Teletubbies.
NEEL: Super Power Heroes.
WINCHESTER: Super Power Heroes. It was huge, it was a phenomenon! I don’t know why I’m drawing a blank on their names. I can see them with their little…
NEEL: Power Rangers!
WINCHESTER: Power Rangers. He shopped Power Rangers for something like seven years before he finally found someone that was willing to buy into it, and then that’s when he became a multi-millionaire. Haim Saban originally came from Israel and then immigrated to the United States and became a self-made millionaire here in the States. He was inspiring in his perseverance and holding on to something that he knew was good. He knew Power Rangers was going to be a hit, and sure enough it was, and then marketing the heck out of it and looking at all of the different retail aspects of marketing that video content. That’s what really took off! I think ultimately that’s where more of the revenue came from–selling the retail end of it, the dolls, the toys, and everything that goes along with those Power Rangers, which was an incredible phenomenon in the ’90s. So just being around his organization and learning from that was a very valuable experience for me, which I totally use to this day.
NEEL: Okay, so it’s 1999 and you are at a crossroads. What made you decide to take this giant leap into wanting to start CoLoursTV, and how did that whole idea even solidify for you?
WINCHESTER: Well, it goes back to that twenty year plan, 1979. I was really quite happy at Jones Intercable in 1996. I had the luxury of being in programming and in marketing, and so it was always a constant learning experience. I didn’t get stuck doing the same thing. Glenn Jones was always developing a new company, opening up a new side of the business, and so there was always plenty to do. What happened at the Family Channel was that I was going to be moving out of a corporate setting and going into a small regional office. I was going to be head of the ten-state mountain region for the Family Channel, and it was going to put me into sales, programming and running a small office. My boss was going to be thousands of miles away; I was the boss of that office, and I said, “Hmm, well, if I’m going to run a network one day, I guess I’d better start somewhere other than being in the comfort of the corporate environment.” It was a really big stretch for me. I asked myself, okay, can I do this? Can I run a small office, and be responsible for a P&L? I have to set up and do everything. So it was just putting me in a whole different direction than my skill set, and I knew if my dream was to run a network, I knew I had to get out. I had to leave the comforts of the corporate environment and run a small regional office, and so that’s what drove me to the programming side, plus, understanding all the aspects of programming. In an affiliate sales office, you don’t get that close to it like you would be in the corporate office, where they actually did the programming and production and so forth. At least it gets you to that side of the business and that you can start gleaning information from the various departments.
NEEL: So when did CoLoursTV have a birth in your mind?
WINCHESTER: Well, what happened was I’m very involved in my community, very involved, mostly on the political side because, again, it goes back to my love of politics and communications, and since I decided to pursue communications as my career, I stayed involved politically in my community. So I was raising money, working on campaigns. Most of my time was really spent on hiring people to go door-to-door and getting money, grant writing, and making sure that we fund that type of project in the community. Well, just being involved in the community in that way I just knew a lot of people. What happened was a group of community leaders within the African-American community in Denver had an opportunity, based on the franchise agreement that was struck between the city of Denver and Mile-Hi. That franchise was owned by TCI, and later AT&T, and today, of course, Comcast has that franchise. They had an opportunity in 1981 – that’s when the deal was first struck – to run a television station. They called it the BEC channel, the Black Entrepreneurial Channel. This opportunity was given to both the African-American and Latino communities in Denver. Well, the Latino community basically took that opportunity and sort of moved it into other areas. I believe it became the Museum de las Americas, a museum of Latino art and a great source of pride and joy for the community here in Denver. I believe quite a few Latino networks already existed, like Univision and Telemundo , the local community didn’t feel as much of a need as the African-American community did with developing their own television station. So the African-American community sat on it from 1981 until about 1999, and at that time we said, “Okay, we need to have the cable company make good on this promise because otherwise we’re going to lose it if we don’t do something about it.” So they gave it to a consortium of local community-based African-American organizations, which included the Urban League of Denver, the NAACP, the Greater Denver Ministerial Alliance, the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce, Black United Front, and the Urban Spectrum. Those six groups came together to form Blackstar Communications. It was a nonprofit organization established for charitable and educational purposes. The way they were going to serve the educational and charitable needs of the community was through a television station, and therefore they decided with $500,000, which was given by AT&T at the time, gave them $500,000 in 1999 to start this television station, gave them a 15-year contract, and they looked at each other and said, “Well, we know nothing about running a television network, let alone starting one from scratch.” But they did know me. They knew me in the community. There weren’t that many African-Americans in the community who were in the cable industry, let alone someone that they also knew and trusted in the African-American community. So it was sort of a great blending there because they said, “Okay, Tracy, we know you from working in the community, but we also know that you have 15 years of cable experience. Help us figure this out.” So I said, “Okay, I’ll write the business plan for you.” So I did a five-year business plan, but what I presented to them was not to have another BET, but to have a multicultural network, and boy, was that a hard sell. They were like, “What?! We can’t have our own BET? What do you mean? We’ve been waiting all this time to have our own BET!” I said, well, let’s look at it this way. First of all, there’s only about 10% of the population that is African-American in the city of Denver. You have another 25%, now it’s probably about 30%, that’s Latino, and then you have another 5% of Asian, Native American, and so really to have a strictly Black channel isn’t going to achieve the objective that you want because really want you want is to give people of color a platform to be able to talk about their issues, to be able to show the positive images of people of color, and it’s not just African-Americans who are disenfranchised and do not have the opportunity to tell their stories, but there are other groups out there, other indigenous ethnic groups that do not have the opportunity to tell their stories. Truly, when you think about it, it’s not only those people of color, but we’re also talking the Irish, we’re talking the Italians, the Germans, the Jewish, the Israelis, there are so many cultures out there that really… there’s not really a network that really focuses on people’s cultures, and how they’re living their culture in this generation, second and third generation. It’s one thing to go international, you can go overseas and see what’s going on in Ireland, or what’s going on in the Middle East, and what have you, but how are the second and third generation Arabs living today? How are the Italians expressing themselves, today, in this environment in the United States? So it was like, oh, okay, a little light bulb went off. So they liked the idea, and they thought, okay, let’s give it a try. Let’s go for it. I think that business plan, that genesis for being multicultural versus just Black only, being inclusive, bringing everybody to the table, is just a much more enlightening vision. You can do so much more with that than you can with trying to be only one culture, and only defining one culture because when you walk down the street you don’t just see one culture. In the United States we have so much variety in our ethnic heritage and I think that’s what you like to see on a television network where everyone is there in primetime, and you mix it up during… Not all of my friends are Black, not all of my friends are White. I have Asians, I have Latin friends, and that’s what we wanted to show. So here we are, 2008, and we’re in 17 million homes, and so it’s been a great journey and I think we’re going to be in even more households. I think if we do this interview five years from now, I think we will be more than double, and really my hope is to be in at least 60 million homes. We’re digital, so it’s a little hard, and with the competition with other channels it’s a little hard, but no one else has really come up with this whole multicultural concept for a channel. It’s a broad niche that I think has a lot of potential for the future, as well as now.
NEEL: How do you take a local origination channel, which is basically what that was… so you’ve gone and taken a small local origination channel, and you’ve turned it into a nationally distributed channel that is distributed by several different service providers at this point in time. I know you got your start with Dish, they were the ones that actually put you up on the satellite, is that correct?
NEEL: So how did you go from being a small little nonprofit LO to being a nationally distributed network? That’s a big giant leap!
WINCHESTER: And it came earlier than I thought it would in my business plan. I had it for year four or five, and it happened in the second or third year. We were fortunate. The government had a mandate with the satellite providers saying that you have to dedicate… since you don’t have public access – that was the problem. Satellite providers, Direct and Dish, do not have public access channel requirements such as cable, and so what the FCC said back in about 1999 is that 4% of the channels have to dedicated to nonprofit networks or public interest, which is synonymous, public interest and nonprofit. So mostly the networks that you have out there are schools – Brigham Young University comes to mind – and there’s also a plethora of religious networks that are out there, from Daystar to Trinity. So those are the ones that easily qualified as nonprofit. We, fortunately, do not fit either one of those two categories, so we were very different and we were nonprofit at the same time. So it was an easy decision, I think, for Dish Network to say let’s put some diversity in our public interest lineup where it can appeal to a multicultural community, as well as fulfill our public interest obligation.
NEEL: Have you changed the program mix as you’ve gone national? Has the kind of changed and morphed over time?
WINCHESTER: Well … we were only given $500,000, so you know that’s nothing to run a network, and I think everyone was pretty much surprised that we were still around a year later, and–to the chagrin of cable–we were actually on satellite, too. So I think for us it’s really more about acquired programming right now. We’re looking to do more original production, but it’s so expensive, and so in order for us to really keep the doors open, we really have to go after acquired programming, but that’s just like any other startup. The balance shifts ultimately as the money comes in. You get less and less acquired programming, and then you do more and more original production as the money comes in. The money comes in when you have distribution, and so of course Madison Avenue is looking for us to get to that 25-30 million household threshold and then we’ll be much more attractive to other sponsors.
NEEL: How are the new platforms going to play a role in CoLoursTV’s business model, the VODs of the world, and online, and those kinds of delivery mechanisms? Are there plans in place to play that role, to be a VOD channel, for instance?
WINCHESTER: Right now no one has quite worked out the VOD advertising revenue stream yet, and because that’s sketchy and spotty, and you really don’t know… it’s not in our best interest to look at being pure VOD. We obviously have VOD options in our contract for anyone to exercise. In fact, we’ll be willing to go VOD in the beginning as long as the contract says ultimately you turn into a full-time channel. We can’t afford to be strictly VOD because how are we going to get sponsorship revenue if we don’t have those households, and they changed the dynamics of that. I don’t even see that changing anytime soon. Until they’re able to identify how many people are watching your spot when they do put it out there on a VOD, there’s no way for any advertiser to want to spend money on your content. I know they’re working on it. Right now online, we’re videostreaming our network 24/7 only because we want people who are not on a cable system to experience our programming. We’re only in about maybe 3 million cable households right now. Well, that leaves a lot of cable households that are not getting CoLoursTV. So until we sign those deals with the other cable operators and get the launch–which they’re telling us, they really are, and I believe them–the cable operators are saying switch video capacity, once the capacity kicks in, absolutely we want to put CoLoursTV on. It serves our community well. You’re talking about, first of all, a social consciousness. Here you’re supporting a network that’s putting their proceeds back into the community. It’s not going to shareholders, it’s going to stakeholders. Our money, our proceeds go back into the community for health programs, education programs, everything that deals with building up the infrastructure of the community to make it thrive, strong and healthy, and be self-sustaining. Every community wants to be able to make its own money to take care of its own people, and not always have to ask for it. So this is the whole mission of CoLoursTV– to be self-sustaining. So when you have that social consciousness going on, and then you have programming that’s going to serve the needs of people of color, it’s not like there’s a lot of ethnic programming networks out there. We’re definitely doing a lot better than we were in 1985. Still, there’s room for more, and it’s hard to be an independent network. You need the support of the cable operators to sign on, support us and to distribute us. I believe once they have the channel capacity that they will put us on. So that’s what I’m waiting for.
NEEL: Is that your biggest challenge, then, right now, waiting for that technology to allow the landscape to open back up?
WINCHESTER: Absolutely, absolutely. Meanwhile, we’re also pursuing a multicast route, as well. Cable operators have some obligations requiring them to work with broadcast to put on their channels that are going to multiply after February 19th. That space in the spectrum–the 19.3 megahertz– that’s going to allow them to launch additional networks. We’d like to be considered by the broadcasters for that as well.
NEEL: Interesting. What kinds of groups or organizations do you work with in order to offer the most representative programming that you can? How do you make your programming mix?
WINCHESTER: We work with a lot of independent producers. It’s amazing–we’ve been out here for a while now, so a lot of people really just reach out to us. We go to film festivals and to association events. One I can think of right now is National Association of Latino Independent Producers; NALIP. And so we went there to make our presence known so that they know that we exist out here, and usually it doesn’t take much, you just show up in the room and people search you out. That’s how we’ve been able to get a lot of the product that we have on television. There are so many creative people out there that are just searching for that space. The good news is television is still a premium, even though a lot of people are going the way of the internet to expose their creativity, to say, hey, this is what I can do, this is the kind of programming that I’m coming up with. But it’s also hard. It’s hard if you just go on the internet. You do utilize YouTube and MySpace in order to get your message out there of course, but television still seems to be a premium, and it seems to be able to reach more people, at least on a consistent basis than just sort of jumping on the internet without any marketing. You really have to work that whole social networking arena in order to get the message out that your website exists. It’s a lot of grassroots word of mouth marketing when you’re on the internet, but it’s a little easier with television, I think, because you sit there, channel surf with your remote control, and you stumble on it a lot quicker because it’s still finite. The internet is so massive that it’s not easy to target your audience.
NEEL: How do you market yourself with consumers at this point? I’m a consumer, I’m flipping through my TV, how do I know whether I have CoLours or not, and if I know it exists then I can go to my distributor and say I want it. So how do you let people know that you even exist?
WINCHESTER: I still see it as very traditional. You still have to do it with radio and print. You do obviously use the internet and you have to go through a lot of social networking in the sense that you let people know through blogs. You find out what blogs are interested in multiculturalism and you have to be able to identify those blogs, let them know, talk to them. You have to explain yourself on MySpace, YouTube and Facebook, you have a presence there. That’s grassroots marketing right there, and then the traditional marketing is still, to me, the bill stuffers–it’s the magazines, it’s the newspapers, it’s radio. If somebody could tell me there’s something else other than that, please let me know! Of course, if you’ve really got a big budget you go into the billboards and the bus signs, and then you do street marketing where you can hire people to comb the streets and tell people about your product that way, as well, too. So there are a lot of different avenues, it’s just you have to have big bucks.
NEEL: That’ll be the day!!
NEEL: How do you make programming decisions for a multi-ethnic audience and still maintain a cohesive brand identity?
WINCHESTER: That is hard. It’s hard because people want to pigeonhole you into a category. When you’re ethnic programming, the first thing they say is “Are you Asian? Are you Latino?” No, we’re all both and more. So they want you to be just one culture. They want you to be only between 18-34, or they want you to be only between 25-55. I don’t know why for some reason… it’s always trying to make people understand that we’re more like general entertainment. ABC, NBC and CBS have programs that fit different genres. They have the Saturday morning TV shows for the youngsters, the 8-12 or the 2-14, the children programming; and then they have late night programming for the older adult. So they have different demos throughout the day with their programs that they appeal to. So we don’t want to be labeled into one box, one set of demos. We want to be able to have different demos, but our shows are going to be targeting those specific demos, and so that’s how we basically program. We program as a broad niche. You come to us as a destination channel to see multiculturalism at its best, but you’re not going to watch every show because if you don’t have kids you’re not going to watch the children’s programming. You’re not going to watch the late night hip-hop shows that we put on as well, too. So, you’re probably going to love the Chinese documentaries that we have between 5 and 7. Our idea of it is we serve many demos, but we’re a destination for multiculturalism. That’s really our brand—multiculturalism. Don’t brand us by our demos because…we’ll have different shows for different demos.
NEEL: It seems like a no-brainer to have this kind of programming mix because it fills a lot of niches in a very small little bit of megahertz space, and yet here you are, you’re only on in 3 million cable homes. How are you going in and convincing these guys that they’re making a mistake by not carrying you right now instead of waiting for this spectrum to open up, which could be 18 months, it could be three years, you never quite know.
WINCHESTER: It’s a sliding scale, yeah, slippery slope. Exactly. It is about being patient, it is about persevering. It’s the last man standing. I’ve seen networks come and go in the last eight years, like the Black Family Channel, and other ones whose names I can’t even recall. All I can say is that we’ve been blessed in the sense that we’re still standing. We’re still here, and we’re an independent and we don’t have big bankrolls of cash. We’re still looking for a little bankroll of cash. We’re always open to that. I think that you trust and believe what the operators tell you, in the sense that they have a lot of obligations and so you may not be at the very top of their priorities in terms of putting our network on their channel lineup. I think what you have to do is wait it out. I do believe the spectrum will widen. I think there will be an opportunity for us. I believe that they do want to serve their ethnic communities, but at the same time they also want to be able to give you high-def, they want to be able to give you telephony. There’s a lot of business models that just eat up the spectrum, and it may not be at the top of their agenda to want to be able to put on that fourth or fifth ethnic channel because clearly they do have ethnic channels on. I’m not going to be the only one on the spectrum. So what I have to do is manage my expectations and manage my budget so that we can be in here for the long-term. That’s my plan. That’s my 20-year plan from 1999 to 2019.
NEEL: Well, let’s talk a little bit about your philosophies on planning and being a visionary, being a planner and being a leader in the industry because you have been for quite a long time, particularly in the arena of minority-owned and distributed programming. How do you fulfill your goals and objectives in this area, and what kinds of things do you struggle with when it comes to that kind of thing?
WINCHESTER: My personal goals and objectives, or the goals and objectives for CoLoursTV?
NEEL: Well, let’s talk about both. Let’s talk about the goals and objectives for CoLoursTV, but then I want to talk about what your personal goals and objectives are, and how you moved through the industry personally and how it’s worked for you. So, goals and objectives for CoLoursTV – ultimately you would like to see that network be…
WINCHESTER: In 60 million homes. I would like for it to have the type of programming that allows us to really show realistic images of people of color being just like everyone else, showing their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations, their need to survive in this economy and how they go about doing it gracefully, and also showing them being involved in the process of building a future for their children. That’s really the type of messages and the type of programming that I’m looking to showcase on CoLoursTV. Our philosophy is to bridge the cultural divide. That’s really what this whole thing is about–to make sure that people understand that we’re no different than the next person. The person from Israel has the same dreams and aspirations as the person from South Africa. They both happen to be living in the United States, and they both happen to be second and third generation, and are very much Americans, and have that whole American lifestyle that is very important to them, but they don’t want to lose their cultural identity in the process. That is the vision for CoLoursTV, the programming model. And again, distribution is the name of the game, so it’s very important for us to survive and keep growing our numbers, and that’s what I’ve seen all along. When I was with Jones Intercable talking to other programmers who were coming into my office looking to negotiate a deal and I would have to explain to them that this is not going to be a priority for us right now, hopefully you’ll be knocking on our door three or four years from now. It really is about hanging in there until the spectrum opens up. I learned a lot from Gerry Laybourne when she launched Oxygen – you have to align yourself with your constituents out there, too. You can’t be just in a little world of your own while you’re trying to push your programming out there. You have to make sure the consumer knows that you live and breathe and exist. You build alliances with influential groups to build your brand, and also build trust and loyalty from your consumers, so that they want to see you on their channel lineup. That allows them to go and ask their cable operator. The cable operator needs to hear that there’s a demand out there from the community to put your channel on.
NEEL: As a woman, and a woman of color, what kind of hurdles have you kind of had to go through, jump over, as your career has gone through the years, and how do you think things have changed now as opposed to when you started?
WINCHESTER: Hmm. The more things change, the more they stay the same. From ’85, when I started in this industry, to 2008, hmmm. It was interesting watching… obviously, this was a pivotal year for the United States in 2008. When my grandchildren are watching this film, I want them to know this was a pivotal year, 2008.
NEEL: That we live in interesting times, and we do.
WINCHESTER: Absolutely. I believe having Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama running for the highest office in the land made a difference. It elevated me as a woman, it elevated me as an African-American, that these two people are being seriously considered for the highest office in the land. Therefore, I am not an anomaly. Being president and CEO of a company is not an anomaly anymore. This is mainstream. That feels wonderful. It absolutely does. I think in 1985 it would have been little tough. You’re an anomaly, you’re a rarity, you don’t see that that often, and I think we’re not in huge numbers – don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we have a ton of Debra Lees and Gerry Laybournes running around in this industry, but they’re there. They have been there. They’ve already paved the way. It’s not anything… It’s definitely mainstream, it’s not unusual. That means you’re only going to be judged now strictly by what you bring to the table. It’s not about whether or not you can bring it to the table, but whether or not are you bringing it to the table. It’s all on you now. So that’s the difference I see. I don’t see as much of a barrier in people’s heads as being able to put their mind around the fact that there’s a woman walking in my door, that Tracy Winchester is not a guy. Tracy Winchester is a woman, and I think it just makes it easier for me to tell the story of CoLoursTV. I think it makes it easier for people to embrace me because of people who have gone ahead of me, and people who have set the highest bar in running for President of the United States. Now, it’s like, “Do I have the juice? Do you, Tracy, have the juice?” Well, if I have the juice, I’ll succeed. I’ll be okay.
NEEL: What advice would you have for women wanting to enter the cable industry today?
WINCHESTER: Hmm, the cable industry, specifically? I would say do your research on it first. Make sure this is what you want because, as I said earlier, you either love it or you really don’t like it. It’s not for the faint of heart. The cable industry is a tough industry in the sense that it is very entrepreneurial, very fast-paced. What was true five years ago may not be true today just because there’s new technology, there’s new rules, new regs. It’s always changing and you have to spend a lot of time devoted to the industry. If you want to rise in the industry, if you want to rise in the business, you have to spend a lot of time keeping up with what’s going on, reading the trades, keeping up with your engineering people and your technical people. If you’re on the marketing side or the programming side or the sales side, you’d better keep up with the hardware side and what’s going on in other departments, in order to get the big picture and fully understand where you need to go, where you need to devote your energy and time to, what’s the next big moneymaker, what’s going to be the biggest priority for your company. I’m not saying anything that I wouldn’t apply to any other industry. I think that cable is much more exciting than a lot of other industries. I think it’s more exciting than insurance companies. I may be wrong, but I think it’s a little bit more exciting. What goes on in insurance companies, I’m sure, is the same thing. You need a lot of hard work, a lot of hours, and I think that you have to decide for yourself if this is what I want to do with my life, if this is what I want to do in my career, and a career is a big part of your life. I like to live by what I call the four Ps. It’s not the four Ps that you have in marketing, but it’s the four Ps that I call for life. You need to be prayerful, you need to be patient, you need to be productive, and you need to be passionate. The only thing that I put as number one is prayerful. You need to take time to ask what is going to be the best thing for you. You need to figure out and ask what you want, and ask for the guidance, ask for clarity, ask for peace of mind. I think you need to be patient because everything that you ask for is not going to happen right away. So you’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to persevere. I think you need to be productive, that while you’re waiting to figure out what you want or what you want to do, be productive, produce, do things. That way you figure out what you want and what you don’t want by being productive. And then the last is being passionate. This is what I tell everyone: don’t do any work that you don’t like doing. Get out of it. If you don’t want to be in insurance, get out of it. If you want to be a writer, write. Do that. The money will come. It’ll come, you’ll figure it out, you’ll learn how to make it. But don’t sacrifice your life to be in something that you don’t want to do. Be passionate, and everything else will fall in place.
NEEL: How would you take those four Ps and translate that to the cable industry? What does the cable industry need to do to keep its…
NEEL: Aside from carrying CoLoursTV in every single household?
WINCHESTER: The four Ps for the cable industry. Hmm. Yeah, they could use the four Ps. That would work for them really well. The cable industry, I think it is passionate, I think it is productive. I think it’s probably pretty patient as well, too, even though sometimes they do roll out things maybe ahead of their time. But prayerful, I do believe that there are quite a few people in the industry that rely on prayers to get them through the day because Lord knows, we need prayer. I know the question that you were asking about women, and how do women stay in the industry – it’s a balancing act, I think, for women to be involved in the industry and to have a family. That wasn’t a novel concept. Everyone talked about women balancing their family life and their career. And so I think that’s why it’s so important to make sure you like this industry, you like what you’re doing because you’re going to spend a lot of hours working in the cable industry to keep up with what’s going on and constantly learning all the time. I think that what the cable industry has to do in order to do their part is make the environment accommodative for woman to balance family life with a career. Make hours flexible… At one time I know job sharing was a really big thing. I’m not sure if they’re still doing that now or not, but if job sharing is something that makes sense, I think the cable industry needs to make those options available in the work environment. I think you need to be comfortable that your children are being taken care of; if they need to have daycare in the facility so that women can be comfortable knowing that their child is being taken care of, meet that need. I’m a mother for the first time at 53, so it was different for me at 51 having a child. I had the flexibility to be pregnant, and if I didn’t have a good day I went home because guess what, I was the boss. But if I was 21 or 31, I wasn’t the boss, and I also knew that if I went home and maybe wasn’t feeling well and didn’t have the time to put into that particular project, than maybe that project was going to go away and it was going to be given to someone else, and that probably would have meant a sacrifice in a promotion. So it’s harder for women in their 20s and 30s, I think, to have families and to have a thriving, robust career. It takes a lot of hours and it takes a lot of help, and I think that the cable industry has to be compassionate about that if they want to have the successful women within their ranks….Women bring a certain skill set and a different perspective to the business world that the business world needs, obviously, because more than 50% of our nation’s consumers are women. So you need to have the female mind in there to make sure you understand how to relate to the female consumer. So I think if you want to retain your women in management and middle management, you’ve got to make the environment conducive for them to balance their lives, to give them the flexibility, and to know that they’re not going to miss out on a promotion just because of one or two days that they had to deal with a child; to know that they’re still in the running and that they can still get a promotion and move forward.
NEEL: Do you think the industry’s doing a better job today than say in 1985?
WINCHESTER: I think so because there are more women at the top that understand that. I don’t have any specific facts at my fingertips to say that. All I can do is talk to my women friends and find out. They seem to have a lot more flexibility, maybe because they’ve been in the industry as long as me. I don’t know. I guess I need to talk a little bit more to the 20 and 30 year olds and find out how things are for you. It appears that because women are at the top and they understand what the issues are that they are helping to create that environment, but I don’t know for a fact.
NEEL: Do you think that the cable industry is also… have they embraced diversity more than when you were a Kaitz fellow? Are we seeing advances? I know that in ’85 they were trying to pinpoint and bullet and put people in places, but there were not very many of them. It was a very scattershot type of environment. It wasn’t because they didn’t really care, but perhaps they didn’t really know how. Do you think they’ve done better with diversity and that promoting a diverse workforce has taken on a higher profile in companies? Is it at a high enough profile?
WINCHESTER: You know, being in the industry now for what, 22, 23 years, it seems to be somewhat cyclical. I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure how it could be cyclical, but it seems to be that way. It seems like diversity becomes a really hot button for a couple of years and then it dies down, and then it rises back up again, and then it dies down and it rises back up again. What I will say about the industry is that they are consistent in keeping diversity somewhere on the agenda. I will say that. And I think that’s significant. They have not let diversity just fall off the agenda altogether, and I guess I have to give credit to the people of color in the industry that won’t let them forget it. I think NAMIC and Women in Cable are out there every year advocating the agenda for their organizations, and I think the fact that the cable industry has been very supportive of it, and I think that support trickles down. I don’t want to sound like Bush, but I think it does trickle down. We may not yet be at the numbers that we want, but the fact that they have not let go of it, I think, is important that they still are willing to struggle with it, and they’re still willing to put money towards it and put people there. The Walter Kaitz Foundation, 25th anniversary – that could have gone away years ago. That could have died years ago, and I think it’s a testament to the industry that they still believe it’s an important issue. Some years they get A’s, some years they get C’s, but the fact is it’s still there.
NEEL: What would you consider the most rewarding moment in your career?
WINCHESTER: Realizing my 20 year dream, CoLoursTV. To be able to do the business plan and to sell it, and to get the support of my board. My board has been very supportive of that. I could not be where I am today if I did not have their support. The fact that we’re growing, that I see we go from small steps to big steps, and it’s not just in the distribution numbers, but it’s just staff and also being able to hire people and help people fulfill their dreams, to get a job at CoLoursTV. So I find that very rewarding. I don’t plan to be anywhere else but at CoLoursTV until they kick me out.
NEEL: What do you think your personal and your professional legacy will be?
WINCHESTER: I like to think that my personal legacy will be that I was a compassionate person, that I truly wanted people to fulfill their own dreams. I feel blessed that I’ve been able to fulfill my own dreams and to utilize my gifts and talents, so it’s my passion to allow other people to fulfill their own dreams. In doing that, I try to be compassionate, I really do. It’s hard when you’ve got to make P&L, and you’re like, oh, gosh, but at least I like to make sure that people will see me treat everyone as an individual, not just as someone who’s just part of the puzzle, or someone there to help me get to where I want CoLoursTV to be, but that I really took the time to focus on them as individuals and help them reach their own dreams.
NEEL: I also know that you’re also extremely active in your community, a community activist! In most quarters a good term. So, talk to me a little bit about how that has helped shape… being active and volunteering in your community and how that’s kind of helped you shape your personal and your professional compass.
WINCHESTER: Giving back is important. I think if you’ve been given many opportunities and you’ve been blessed with rights and privileges, I think it’s all about giving back to people who may not have as much as you do. I think that’s important. It’s something that I learned from my parents. They weren’t activists on some huge level, but they did it within their realm. They worked fulltime and they took time to get involved with organizations that helped people. In fact, just little things. I remember one of the things my mother used to do was take a blind woman to church every Sunday. It wasn’t a big thing, but I’m sure it was a big thing for that woman. Those were the types of things that I saw with my family and I felt that I needed to make sure that I do that as well. It doesn’t have to be the great big thing; it’s just as simple as giving out mail at the homeless shelter, or just helping a person on a one-to-one basis. It doesn’t mean you have to raise millions of dollars, but I think if you take the time and do whatever you can in your own universe, I think is going to go a long way. I think it goes a long way in making you a happier person. I think that helping people is much more rewarding than taking over the universe.
NEEL: What do you think cable television’s legacy to society’s going to be?
WINCHESTER: Gosh, I think cable is just a wonderful invention. It brings to the individual, to the family, to the home life; it just brings the world to their house, to their home. That’s what I thought about cable in college when I first discovered it, it’s not just three channels, but it’s 500 channels. It’s all of this wonderful content that gives you an insight to the world and gives you an insight to people, even to your next door neighbor because a lot of times people don’t even get to know their next door neighbor. They should, but at least you get to know about your next door neighbor just by watching some program that will give you some insight into what they’re like. Making all those possibilities real, I think cable’s legacy is just phenomenal. It just reinvented the way we watch television, obviously, but also the way we learn about our world.
NEEL: Tracy, thank you very much for joining us today. We are speaking to Tracy Jenkins-Winchester. She is the president and CEO of CoLoursTV. Thank you very much.
WINCHESTER: Thank you, K.C.