News

Black Colleges to Get Net

9/13/2010 3:45 AM Eastern

Historically black colleges
and universities will have a
cable network to call their own
next summer with the proposed
launch of the independentlyowned
and sports-themed HBCU
Network.

The basic-cable service, targeted
primarily to 15-to-24-year-old
African-American high-school
and college-age students, will be
anchored by live Division I and II
college sports programming from
the major HBCU sports conferences,
as well as HBCU-produced
educational and entertainment
programming, according to Curtis
Symonds, the network’s CEO
and a former BET executive.

“This is an opportunity to talk
about the 143-year history of HBCUs
and provide opportunities for
their growth and future prosperity
— and to target a demographic
that advertisers want to reach,” Symonds
told Multichannel News.

EX-BET BACKERS
Independent holding company
C3 Media LLC — composed of
veteran and ex-BET cable executives
Symonds, Clint Evans and
Candace Walker — will hold a
majority financial stake in the
channel, to be based in Atlanta.
Symonds said the group is talking
to other potential investors,
but would not reveal specifics.

“We have some strong entities
that have expressed interest
in the channel and we’re making
good progress,” he said.

The 105 HBCU colleges and
universities as a collective will
also hold a 20% interest in the
channel, Symonds added.

The network expected to
launch in August 2011 but may
“soft-launch” in time for Black
History Month next February,
said Symonds.

Symonds said the network is in
talks with several “major” MSOs
but would not reveal specific details.
Representatives from Time
Warner Cable, Cox Communications,
Charter Communications
and Comcast could not be
reached for comment at press
time. Symonds projects that
the network will launch with 10
million subscribers — mostly
through digital-basic and sportstier
distribution. The network is
proposing a 7.5 cents-per-subscriber
license fee — well below
the fees for similar national college
sports-oriented networks
like ESPNU (17 cents) or CBS College
Sports (22 cents), or the more
than $1 per subscriber charged by
many regional sports networks.

The network’s primary focus
is to launch within the 20-state
HBCU footprint encompassing
the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and
Southern U.S., according to Evans,
the network’s executive vice
president of distribution and marketing.
While the network’s key
target demo is young adults 15 to
24, the network will also have appeal
to HBCU alumni, sports fans
and the multicultural and general-
market student populations,
according to Symonds.

SPORTS-DRIVEN

HBCU Net will focus primarily
on sports programming, devoting
the majority of its primetime
and weekend schedules to
live and repeat telecasts of college
sports events, according to
Walker, the startup’s executive
vice president of programming.

HBCU Network is expected to
offer live NCAA Division I and
Division II black college sports
events from the four major HBCU
Conferences — the Mid-Eastern
Athletic Conference, Southwestern
Athletic Conference,
Southern Intercollegiate Athletic
Conference and Central Intercollegiate
Athletic Association.

The network has worked out
a deal with ESPN — which currently
has multi-year rights to
SWAC and MEAC college football
games — to select conference
games once the sports-programming
giant has chosen its primary
games for ESPNU. Beyond
NBC’s deal to telecast the State
Farm Bayou Classic college football
game between HBCU schools
Southern and Grambling State,
Symonds says national rights to
other HBCU-based athletic contests
are up for grabs.

“We are also working to lock up
deals with the SIAC and the CIAA
conferences,” he added.

The network is also planning
to create a daily SportsCenteresque
HBCU sports studio show
to run in the mornings, according
to Walker.

‘ENTERTAINMENT’ IN MIX

While sports will serve as the
staple of the network’s primetime
programming fare, Walker said
the rest of the schedule will feature
acquired and originally produced
lifestyle programming designed to
capture the culture, heritage and
lifestyle of the HBCU community,
she said, without revealing specific
programming titles.

A major component of the schedule
will also include “edutainment”
programming — a mix of educationally-
based and entertainment
programming mostly aggregated
from various colleges and universities,
including guest lectures, celebrity
speakers and on-campus
entertainment performances, according
to Walker.

Symonds said the network will
not in compete with BET or TV
One for African-American viewers
but rather will complement
those services.

TV One president Johnathan
Rodgers said he doesn’t see HBCU
Network as a competitor, and in
fact is in talks to handle the startup’s
administrative, legal and operational
functions.

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