AT&T Corp.'s Headend In The Sky distribution platform last week launched a 13th transponder that includes three new African-American networks, Great American Country and ComedyNet.
The latest so-called "pod" on the digital-distribution platform has five services so far: New Urban Entertainment Television, or NUE-TV; Major Broadcasting Corp. Network; and The Word Network, as well as GAC and ComedyNet.
The pod, slated to launch in October with as many as 10 networks, actually bowed last Wednesday, Nov. 1. At this summer's annual meeting of the National Cable Television Cooperative, HITS officials said they wanted help to incubate a number of new programming services on Pod 13.
At the time, they listed nearly a dozen networks they planned to carry, including the classical music network Fanfare, the now-defunct Fox Family diginets boyzChannel and girlzChannel, Book Network, CNBC2 and Do It Yourself-all in addition to GAC, MBC, NUE-TV and ComedyNet.
Last week, officials from HITS couldn't be reached for comment as to why the pod launched with only five networks. An AT&T Broadband spokeswoman said more services will eventually be added to the new transponder. HITS officials have said the pod has enough room for 12 nets.
Both MBC, whose backers include boxer Evander Holyfield and entertainer Marlon Jackson, and NUE-TV, in which Quincy Jones is a principal, reached affiliation deals with AT&T Broadband last year. Neither service has been picked up by any of the MSO's cable systems, however.
Alvin James, founder and senior managing partner of MBC, said being on HITS will help his network finally get some distribution in AT&T Broadband markets.
"We're excited about having the ability to offer our service on a national basis via the HITS platform," James said.
Digital cable is being rolled out in several urban markets, James noted, so HITS placement is a good opportunity for MBC. MBC is now talking to AT&T cable systems, such as its St. Louis operation, about finally getting on the lineup, he added.
He also noted that African Americans are typically big buyers of premium services.
MBC now has 5 million subscribers, and has recently reached carriage deals with Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications Inc., the NCTC and Adelphia Communications Corp.
NUE-TV president Robert Townsend said his network's launch on HITS is a key step for its future.
"I see it as my beachhead at AT&T," he said. "AT&T only pulls down [digital] channels from HITS. So to play the game, I have to get on the field."
GAC, which now reaches 15 million homes, wanted to gain HITS carriage in order to continue expanding its distribution, according to GAC president Jeff Wayne.
"At this point, we're just looking at different ways to get carriage," he said.