Radio One Net Wins Comcast Aid - Multichannel

Radio One Net Wins Comcast Aid

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Seeking to serve what it believes is an underserved marketplace, minority-owned radio broadcaster Radio One Inc. and Comcast Corp. last week said they'll form an African-American-targeted digital-cable network, to launch by mid-2003.

The yet-to-be-named channel will target the 25-to-54 demographic, Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins said.

It will be an entertainment-focused, general-interest channel with a mix of original and acquired programming, but no further details were disclosed.

Liggins said Comcast is committed to a "significant" subscriber rollout of the service at launch, but failed to provide specific details.

Representatives from both companies also said carriage deals with other operators have yet to be reached.

Liggins said his network should help operators sell digital cable to consumers.

"Cable is a large expenditure in the African-American household, and this product will shoot right at the core consumer of cable," he said. "It'll help drive subscriber penetration, particularly on the digital side."

Equal partners

Comcast and Radio One will each hold a stake of less than a 40 percent in the network, with the broadcaster contributing up to $70 million over a four-year period, and $60 million coming from Comcast and other undetermined investors, Liggins added.

A Comcast spokesman said the MSO is talking to additional investors, but would not provide specific company names.

Radio One will choose the network's executive team, but it's unclear whether any current Comcast programming executives will be part of the lineup.

Liggins confirmed that former Discovery Networks U.S. president Johnathan Rogers is being considered for a top spot within the network, although no deals have been worked out.

Rogers could not be reached for comment at press time.

The venture marks Radio One's second try at distributing an African-American cable network. The company was an investor in the now defunct New Urban Entertainment TV.

Radio One expects the network to break even somewhere toward the end of its third year or the beginning of its fourth.

Simmons hopeful

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said the network will join the slate of other Comcast-owned networks, such as E! Entertainment Television, G4 and The Golf Channel.

"We've had success in incubating new cable channels over the past decade, and we hope today's announcement will be met with similar success several years from now," Roberts said.

A spokesman said Comcast also expects to continue talks with entertainment impresario and Def Jam Recordings founder Russell Simmons about launching Simmons' Fabulous TV, a hip-hop-based multicultural network.

Simmons, who supported the new Radio One/Comcast network, said he's hopeful of developing a partnership with Comcast or any other MSO for his channel, although he would not say whether that partnership would involve an equity stake.

"I'm very confident that we can continue on our path," he said.

Liggins said does not consider himself a competitor to Black Entertainment Television or Atlanta-based Major Broadcasting Corp., and BET essentially shrugged off the announcement.

In a statement, BET chief operating officer Debra Lee said: "The idea of launching another cable-channel option targeting African Americans — or somehow competing with BET, for that matter — is not new. One such venture recently shut down its operation, while another is still trying to survive."

She was apparently referring to NUE-TV and MBC.

MBC executive vice president of operations Travis Mitchell said he didn't believe the new entity would hamper MBC's efforts to gain distribution beyond its current base of 10 million subscribers.

"We're very supportive of Alfred Liggins and Comcast, and we believe that there's room for another new entrant in the marketplace. But we don't believe that that will stop their favorable disposition toward MBC," Mitchell said. "I don't see [MBC] launches getting stalled."

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