In the wake of nationwide anti-racism and social justice protests erupting throughout the summer of 2020, many looked to the media and entertainment industries for signs of bold transformation. In June of that year, BET debuted its Content for Change initiative, an ambitious campaign built on a foundational belief that media plays an integral role in shaping cultural and community values.
When the campaign was first announced, BET committed $25 million to various social justice initiatives. The goal was to amplify emergent global conversations about systemic racism and inequality. It has since developed into something far more ambitious.
Paramount, the network’s parent company, has since expanded BET’s Content for Change initiative on a global scale, marking a dedicated effort to build on its long legacy of programs to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The program uses rigorous research and data to inform a new wave of inclusive storytelling driven across three pillars — the content the company produces, the creative supply chain that powers it and the culture that underpins everything Paramount does.
“I am absolutely thrilled that Paramount has adopted Content for Change as a companywide initiative,” says BET president Scott Mills. “Paramount’s broad array of media platforms — including broadcast, cable, streaming and theatrical — are perfectly positioned to ensure that our Content for Change programming is delivered to audiences in context and at scale.”
Specifically, the company has set out to use research and data to counteract racism, bias, stereotypes and hate with insightful and informed content that aims to portray characters that challenge social stigmas, as well as amplify stories of underrepresented communities across its ecosystem. As a key component of these wider efforts, Paramount and its entertainment brands committed to partnering with community groups and social justice organizations to address topics such as racial inequity, mental health, economic empowerment, education and civic participation. The decision to expand the initiative across all of Paramount further supports the company’s global DEI priorities and BET’s ongoing commitment to use its platform to amplify and elevate Black voices and experiences, while also fostering change through the work of other Paramount brands and partners across a range of social issues.
“This continues BET’s long history of partnering with the most prominent social justice organizations,” explains Mills. “As part of our Content for Change initiative, we’ve deepened our work with these groups and expanded our work with others seeking to positively impact our community — like our upcoming mental health collaboration with Taraji P. Henson’s Boris L. Henson Foundation.”
In the time since Paramount made its Content for Change pledge, ongoing civil unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted the continuation of sensitive discussions within the workplace. These include conversations around how companies handle issues like the rise in anti-Semitism, transphobia and hate crimes targeting other racial, ethnic and religious groups. As part of a wider cultural reckoning, an important question remains: How can companies most effectively address systemic racism and bias?
“We know we don’t have all the answers, which is why Content for Change aims to use rigorous research and data to analyze our own performance and help inform our journey,” says Crystal Barnes, senior VP, corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and governance.
As part of its focus on rigor and research to effect change, Paramount has begun taking steps to shift internal practices both at the corporate and brand level: adding more training courses, conducting studies to determine representation gaps and analyzing how diversified media can shift perspectives.
“As part of these efforts, we’re working with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to analyze 62 series across Paramount, with the intention of moving beyond anecdotal inferences to truly understand how representation and inclusion show up across our content creation ecosystem,” says Barnes. “We’ll be using this data to inform our plans to strengthen representation going forward.”
The sea change starts from within through company culture that builds on Paramount’s array of longstanding DEI practices and goes even deeper moving forward. Through Content for Change, Paramount is implementing a new companywide Culture Orientation — building upon work led by MTV Entertainment Group, which includes MTV, CMT, Comedy Central, Paramount Network and VH1 — to nurture the creative community with mutual understanding and shared values that inform how the company can help drive societal change, address pressing issues of racial and social justice and create ripple effects across the industry.
Paramount is also committing to create and promote more diverse work environments to inspire creators of various backgrounds and ethnicities. To help transform the creative supply chain, the company is building on its legacy of work with new programs like the Content for Change Academy, which aims to remove barriers, build equity and invest in the industry’s next generation of leaders from nontraditional pathways. This includes individuals from community colleges and certification programs, who have historically been marginalized and struggled to enter the entertainment industry.
This all leads to a range of compelling new content in the pipeline. As the final chapter of the initiative, Paramount strives to deliver a transformative experience with more diverse stories from creators of all backgrounds.
While details regarding the program’s next steps are yet to be officially announced, Barnes confirms Paramount and its brands are “working on a number of great initiatives that we’re excited to share with the world soon.”
“For decades, we’ve told stories that matter, but we’ve been operating more on instinct rather than measuring impact. What continues to anchor our Content for Change initiative — from BET’s initial campaign to our cross-company expansion — is research, rigor and data,” she says.
“Because, while we know media shapes minds,” Barnes adds, “we need a deeper, more quantifiable understanding of how to harness the power of storytelling to challenge stereotypes, shift perceptions and create meaningful change. That doesn’t just start with who is represented, but how they are represented. And it requires we find concrete ways to continue holding ourselves accountable, which is exactly what our cross-company teams are working to achieve.”