Multiculturalism is the new normal for America’s millennials and their younger brothers and sisters. For programmers, that means diversity in programming isn’t just an ideal but an imperative to remaining relevant.
Chris McCarthy, president of Viacom’s VH1, MTV and Logo channels, said Tuesday during Variety’s Inclusion summit that this sea-change in the mindset of his target audience guided his efforts in revamping the focus of VH1’s programming over the past 18 months.
“Multicultural is really just culture now,” McCarthy said. “If you look at multicultural or diverse programming as niche and narrow, you’re missing the opportunity. It is the general market now.”
Since McCarthy took the reins at VH1 in July 2015, the cabler has been on a solid growth trajectory for five consecutive quarters, and it has a slew of new series on the way. McCarthy’s track record has been so strong that he was given oversight of MTV last week.
In the past, VH1 had siloed original programs featuring largely African-American personalities on Monday nights and carried broader pop culture-focused fare on Wednesdays. Research and gut instinct told McCarthy that was a mistake, given the fact that some 45% of millennials are non-white. In major urban centers, the percentage is 50% or higher.
“Young people don’t see skin color, they don’t see sexual orientation as difference. They see ‘difference’ as the dominant aspect in culture,” McCarthy said. “They’ve grown up with cell phones in their hands. They bring ‘different’ into their lives every day.”
The shift means that McCarthy and his development team are focused on developing shows around shared passions and values rather than defined by race, ethnicity and gender. That approach led VH1 to its new series “Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party,” which premieres Monday.
“Potluck” brings Martha Stewart together with Snoop Dogg in a show that is part cooking competition and part salon as they entertain an eclectic group of guests. The show sprang from McCarthy’s interest in developing a cooking show because food is such a passion for his target audience. Stewart and Snoop came on board after McCarthy realized they were genuinely friends — which meant that the mix of cultures would not be forced.
“It brings different people together from different cultures and different backgrounds,” he said. “We should embrace how we can bring different cultures together and have fun with it.”