Three More Start-Ups Target Black Audience

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At least three more cable networks aimed at African Americans are in the works, including one centered on music videos and another oriented around religion.

A Florida music entrepreneur is planning next year to launch Black Music Television Inc., a 24-hour cable service that will air African-American and ethnic music videos. The other two cable start-ups are The Word Network and Urban Broadcasting Co.'s UBC-TV.

BMTV-which is talking with TVN Entertainment Corp. about uplinking its signal-Word and UBC-TV are the latest in a batch of new cable networks aimed at the black audience.

The group of potential rivals to Black Entertainment Television-services either already launched or in the works-also includes Major Broadcasting Corp. Network, featuring entertainment and gospel programming, and New Urban Entertainment Television, dubbed NUE-TV.

While the past complaint has been that BET alone was not enough to serve the population, there may now be an overabundance of networks targeting the black audience, with channel capacity so tight and so many new services struggling to gain carriage.

Michigan-based Word plans to target the urban market with a mix of religious ministry and gospel-music programming, network vice president of operations Lewis Gibbs said.

While the privately owned, nonprofit network can only be seen on DirecTV Inc.'s direct-broadcast satellite platform currently, Lewis said his company has distribution deals in place with AT & T Broadband, Time Warner Cable, Comcast Corp., Millennium Digital Media, Mediacom Communications Corp. and Insight Communications Co.

"We expect to have cable carriage by the first quarter of 2001," Lewis said. "We're seeking digital carriage and targeting high urban areas."

To aid its efforts to secure cable deals, the network last week announced the appointment of former In Demand L.L.C. executive Betsy Kellman as vice president of marketing and affiliate relations. The 20-year cable veteran was previously vice president of affiliate marketing at the pay-per-view network.

Lewis said Word plans to differ from other urban-targeted services such as MBC, BET and NUE-TV because it focuses primarily on religious and gospel programming.

"Our programming is 80 percent urban ministries, so we consider ourselves the undisputed source for urban ministries and gospel music," Lewis said. "We're not-for-profit, so we're not asking operators for launch fees, and we're going to help operators with launch support in certain areas."

BMTV, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is slated to debut Jan. 1 and run music videos by aspiring artists who would typically have trouble getting aired on services such as MTV: Music Television, BET and The Box Music Network.

'PAY-PER-PLAY'

BMTV's strategy is to charge record labels for airing videos by lesser-known, second- and third-tier African-American artists, giving those acts exposure.

"It's pay-per-play: It's a private network," said Ken Oxsalida, president of ADS Media Services of Miami, which is selling spots and airtime for videos on BMTV.

BMTV is designed to be a 24-hour service, delivered by satellite and carried on cable through purchase of leased-access time.

The network envisions spending up to $15 million per year for leased access in markets that have significant African-American and ethnic record sales, as well as a large concentration of black-targeted radio stations, BMTV founder and CEO Robert Ingria said. DMAs such as Chicago, New York, Detroit, Miami and Washington, D.C., fit those criteria.

BMTV and UBC-TV are both taking unusual approaches to get started rather than going straight to cable operators for carriage deals.

Harlem-based UBC-TV created an Internet site as the first phase of launching a 24-hour digital-cable network later this year. That network will carry original programming geared toward the urban multicultural market, and it is headed by Peggy Dodson, an entertainment entrepreneur.

NEWS, FASHION

Dodson couldn't be reached for comment. But her Web site, E-UBC.com, features business and financial news from Bloomberg L.P. with additional coverage of topics of interest to the urban market. In one of its first initiatives, UBC plans to video-stream fashion shows by "designers of color."

At BMTV, the ultimate goal is to reach the 12- to 40-year-old African-American demographic, targeting an audience of 10 million to 12 million viewers in 4.2 million households.

Ingria said he and a group of private investors are financing BMTV.

Ingria owns Quadradial Studios, a recording facility in North Miami, Fla., where artists such as Miami Sound Machine, Ted Nugent and Paul Schaffer have worked on recordings for labels such as Atlantic Records and Capitol Records.

He has won more than one-dozen platinum and gold albums, as well as the Florida Motion Picture and Television Association "Best Music Video" award for "Fire," which was featured on MTV's The Beavis & Butt-head Show.

Ingria has been in the music industry for 20 years, and he has filmed many music videos. He got the idea for BMTV because he said he's seen firsthand the frustration of record labels struggling to get their music videos play on national cable networks such as MTV and BET, which typically air videos by artists that have records on heavy rotation on radio.

"The little guys get lost in the shuffle," he said. "That's why I stepped up to the plate. And my ad rates will be user-friendly."

He has signed a letter of intent to retain Boca Raton, Fla.-ad agency The Firm Multimedia to buy leased-access time for BMTV on cable systems around the country. The ad agency will have an annual budget of between $12 million and $15 million for BMTV's media time.

BMTV would sell time for videos, as well as 30-second spots. Record labels would pay $100 to have a four-minute video air on BMTV, according to Oxsalida.

But Ingria said his game plan is to sell record labels a package that would include airtime for their music videos, as well as commercial spots for their albums. BMTV will also have a companion Web site that the record labels can use to sell compact discs and albums.

The Box-which had been known for playing hard-core rap videos-is probably going to be folded into MTV2 by the parent company of both services, MTV Networks. That means BMTV will have one less competitor, Ingria said.

About 61 percent of BET's programming is music-based-either music videos or shows built around music videos-according to a BET spokesman.

As for BMTV's plans, the BET spokesman said, "It sounds like an interesting twist to what has been a successful formula for BET and MTV. We started as an entrepreneurial company, and we respect anyone who goes down the same path."

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