Cable Operators

Next-Generation Net

2/07/2009 5:30 AM Eastern

Houston-based upstart Black Broadcasting Network will look to appeal to 18-to-34-year-old urban viewers with a heavy dose of movies and some original content, according to its founders.

The multiplatform network, which hopes to launch as a digital-cable channel in the second quarter, is already in talks with cable operators, satellite-TV providers and telcos and expects to have several distribution deals in place prior to launch, according to entertainment executive and network co-founder Yusef F. Muhammad. The network has already launched a Web site (www.blackbroadcasting.com), and Muhammad said the network will also venture into mobile and other multimedia platforms.

“There's a need for a new option to Black Entertainment Television, and from what we hear from MSOs, they're open to exploring the possibility of bringing in a new black network to market,” said Muhammad. “I don't see a problem for us from the distribution side.”

The independently-owned network, which claims to have several unnamed celebrity financial backers, will initially feature urban-targeted movies — many of them direct-to-video titles — but will also feature original documentaries and series that will reflect positively the images of urban youth, according to entertainment attorney and network CEO Ricky Anderson.

“We're targeting a demo that certainly has needs, and we want to make sure we give them something that's not only entertaining but educational, but also has some style and charisma,” Anderson said. “We know what the stereotypes are of that younger demo, so we wanted to direct our energy and strength toward trying to enhance that commodity.”

While Muhammad praises such competitors as BET and TV One, he says neither targets the 18-to-34-year-old urban audience like Black Broadcasting Network will.

“BET has been an icon in entertainment for black audiences for a long time, but we can't expect BET to be all things to our community,” Muhammad said. “We want to focus strictly on that 18-to-34 demo, so we want to bring something fresh and new that they're not getting now.”

The network is latest in a slew of recently announced African-American-targeted cable network startups. Last April, former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) announced the creation of the Black Television News Channel, a 24-hour news service for African-Americans slated to launch in June, according to network officials. That service has already secured a carriage agreement with Comcast.

Last August, hip-hop mogul Master P (Percy Miller) unveiled plans for Better Black Television, a family-friendly network providing positive content. BBT has yet to announce a launch date or distribution deals.

This past November, BET founder Bob Johnson teamed with broadcast network Ion to create Urban Television, an entertainment-based network targeting the African-American community. Johnson is hoping the network, which would operate on the digital multicast channels of Ion stations, would be granted must-carry status by the FCC, forcing operators to offer it as part of their digital cable package.

But launching a new, niche-based, independently owned cable network in difficult economic times on cable systems with limited channel capacity is daunting. Black Family Channel, an independently owned African-American targeted network, closed its doors in 2007 after failing to gain significant distribution for the service.

Still, Muhammad believes that the network can survive and prosper despite the difficult environment. While the network is independent, he hasn't ruled out providing ownership equity to affiliates in return for distribution.

“We're always welcoming new opportunities that benefit everyone,” he said. “If someone is already established in the marketplace, it would make good business sense for us — whether it's a Comcast or any other major company or network that is interested in the type of demographic we're addressing — to partner with them.”

At a Glance
Black Broadcasting Network's Programming
Original Content: Rick Smiley Comedy (special), The Industry (series), Big City Hip-Hop & R&B (music series), Black College Sports (magazine show)
Movie Titles: 4 Life, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, Divine Intervention, Internet Dating
September