Digital Dawn for Africa

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A new digital-television entertainment service featuring programming from Africa will launch on several Cox Communications Inc. systems in September.

The independent The Africa Channel — financially backed by such National Basketball Association players as Dikembe Mutumbo and Theo Ratliff — will air music, movies, reality, and news and information programming produced from the continent, network CEO James Makawa said.

The network has already reached a digital-carriage deal with Cox and will bow on the MSO’s New Orleans and Baton Rouge systems, said Africa Channel president Jacob Arback. He added that the Los Angeles-based network is in carriage negotiations with other MSOs and satellite distributors, and expects to be in 15 million homes by the beginning of 2007.

“We anticipate The Africa Channel will provide our Cox Digital Cable customers with a new, diverse destination on the lineup that entertains and informs,” Cox senior vice president of programming Bob Wilson said in a statement.

The Africa Channel will launch with more than 1,200 hours of original and first-run English-language programming, including news and information, travel, lifestyle, music, feature films, soap, talk, reality and special events. The network will tap into programming from the South African Broadcasting Corp. and other Africa-based production companies.

Arback would not reveal the network’s rate card, but said it will offer a video-on-demand component to complement the linear channel. He said the network is not only reaching out to African-Americans, but to everyone interested in quality programming.

“We wanted to create a television home for Africa where everyone can come and live when they want an African experience and African perspective,” Arback said. “We wanted to create a home for the whole perspective.”

Along with entertaining viewers, Makawa said the network will also look to change the often negative perceptions surrounding Africa and African people. “Our network will serve an important cultural need, while providing diverse, entertaining programming that demystifies Africa to American television audiences,” Makawa said.

Added Arback: “When you talk about Africa and the traditional media imagery that we all think of, you can see why there’s fatigue. We’ll deal with the hard issues, but we’ll also have the full-balanced picture.”

“When they see African love interests and African comedy, that’s what changes perception,” he said.