As the General Manager of Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s new cable network, ASPiRE—which launched on June 27, 2012—Paul Butler is at the forefront of African-American ownership in the cable industry. A lawyer by training, Butler is well-known throughout the entertainment industry as an astute and respected executive who has held senior leadership positions at Queen Latifah’s Flava Unit Entertainment, Razor & Tie, LLC, and VH1. Formerly an executive at the gmc (formerly the Gospel Music Channel) cable network, where he played a key role in implementing growth strategies for that company, Butler plans to bring his wealth of experience and knowledge to the new network, which aims to showcase a different slice of the African American experience to television.
BlackEnterprise.com recently spoke with this industry power player to talk about his career and to find out more about the plans for the new channel.
Black Enterprise: What attracted you to use your law degree to help grow entertainment companies?
Paul Butler: It’s really happened organically. When I finished law school, I eventually made my way to New York where I had the great fortune to get an amazing opportunity to work with Flava Unit Entertainment. My career has led me to wonderful opportunities that have allowed me to grow professionally. In fact, I’ve spent the balance of my professional life not as a lawyer, but in business development and other areas of running a company. Being a lawyer has provided me with great skill sets that I have applied across multiple industries to grow professionally.
So what is ASPiRE?
ASPiRE is the new television network from Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Our mission is to celebrate the contributions of African Americans. We will do this broadly by showcasing enlightening and educational programming that reflects positive images of the African American community. Through a diverse slate of programming that includes documentaries, short-films, features, series, music specials, theatre and the performing arts, the network will really focus on groundbreaking properties—particularly works that showcase the next generation of African American creative artists.
How did the new channel come about?
ASPiRE is the first network that Comcast agreed to launch as part of its purchase of NBC. They came together with Magic, who had been looking at opportunities in television to pursue, to partner in the venture. Gmc is providing some of the management support in terms of the operation of ASPiRE. At the time of our launch, ASPiRE will be in 13 of the top 25 African American markets, and then roll out to the rest.
In terms of programming, how will ASPiRE be different from other “black” networks that are currently operating?
I think each one of the networks offers something different in how they reflect the African American community. ASPiRE is really going to be about groundbreaking TV content that broadly reflects our culture. Our goal is to provide viewers with high-quality TV that is edgy, thought-provoking and entertaining.
How will ASPIRE’s launch be different from other recent cable channel launches?
PB: Our plan is to approach and navigate our launch in a very focused way. We have a lot of in-house talent who bring an expertise on how to grow and sustain a new channel over a period of time. Our executives come from a number of major entertainment companies and they’re committed to engaging the right partners for us in terms of advertising, ad sales and marketing. We are going to borrow a page from the playbook that has proven successful for other networks and execute our launch in a very strategic and methodical way.
Would you say that opportunities are improving for African Americans in cable television?
Yes. The audience for cable is very niche and targeted, which allows a channel like ASPiRE to really flourish with respect to delivering its product to a specific audience. I think the success of our network will create additional opportunities for more African Americans to pursue careers in television.
For more information on ASPiRE, visit www.aspire.tv