TV One debuts today (Jan. 19), armed with high expectations of beating the odds of effectively competing with Black Entertainment Television for the attention of African-American viewers.
The service, co-owned by Comcast Corp. and radio station conglomerate Radio One, has already surpassed many predecessors — and most new networks — by securing at least 2.2 million analog subscribers on Comcast systems in Atlanta; Detroit and Flint, Mich; Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
TV One is also closing in on deals for Comcast systems in Chicago, Oakland, Calif., and Philadelphia.
"I'm so happy that our friends at Comcast saw the real value in this channel and gave us the initial analog carriage," TV One president Johnathan Rodgers said. "Rarely do you get big companies to understand how important [distribution] is and to understand how African-Americans deserve this channel."
According to research from rival network Major Broadcasting Corp., African-Americans represent nearly 20% of all industry revenues, despite only accounting for approximately 11% of total cable subscribers.
Digital-cable penetration among African-American viewers is 30%, versus the industry average of 26%, according to findings from Horowitz Associates Inc.'s State of Broadband Urban Markets IV report.
Yet only BET has gained much penetration among African-American targeted networks.
Other networks targeting the African-American audience have launched, but none has been able to survive financially in a very competitive cable environment where it often takes networks between three to five years just to break even.
"The idea of launching another cable-channel option targeting African-Americans — or competing with BET, for that matter — is not new," BET COO Debra Lee said in a statement. "BET recognized the importance of the African-American audience 24 years ago, and is now seen in more than 78 million households nationwide."
Executives from both BET and Atlanta-based MBC, which debuted in September 1999 and now is in some 11 million households, with deals that could put it in front of as many as 30 million subscribers, wished TV One luck.
ROOM FOR MORE?
They believe there is room for more than one African-American targeted network on the cable dial.
"You can have 10 of these networks given the $6 billion spending power of African-Americans, who also watch more television than anybody," MBC president Marlon Jackson said. "I think TV One is going to be a great network, and it's a positive for the urban market to have choices other than MBC and BET."
Jackson added that he's not concerned about TV One's ascension negatively affecting MBC's growth. The family-programming network, whose executive team also includes famed lawyer Willie Gary, former Major League Baseball star Cecil Fielder, ex-heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and entrepreneur Alvin James, continues to roll out the network to subscribers, he added.
Yet other than BET, no other network has been able to come close to gaining critical carriage. Its Comcast ties aside, TV One has yet to reach affiliation deals with any other distributors, despite discussions with cable operators and DBS providers.
Time Warner Cable confirmed that it has talked with TV One, but no deals have been reached. Cox could not be reached for comment on potential negotiations with the channel. Cablevision Systems Corp. would not comment.
To provide incentives for operators to launch the service on basic, Rodgers said that operators will receive a "reasonable" amount of promotional time on Radio One stations, with at 20 seconds of every TV One spot aired on the stations.
The network is taking aim at viewers 25 to 54 viewers whom it believes aren't being adequately served by BET, which long has been criticized for basing much of its programming on music videos and not providing enough scripted and public affairs shows.
BET's ratings were flat last year with a household rating average of 0.6. Among African-American viewers 18 to 49, the network posted a 6% increase in 2003 to a 2.2 rating in primetime. Among African-Americans 25 to 54, BET's improved its ratings by 5% to a 2.04 average.
The network last year began to differentiate its programming lineup, with the additions of non-music fare from Viacom Inc. sister networks UPN (Girlfriends and The Parkers) and Showtime (Soul Food).
Later this month, BET is scheduled to launch its first reality series, College Hill, a show that will follows the lives of eight co-eds attending historically black college Southern University.
"Our sixth consecutive year of record ratings growth clearly indicates that we are delivering the kind of music, entertainment, news, sports, documentaries, cinema and specials that African Americans want to see," Lee said. "We will continue to be the leader in providing quality programming to this important demographic group."
TV One initially features mostly acquired series, movies and syndicated programming, such as Good Times, The Cosby Mysteries, B. Smith With Style, Between Brothers and City Of Angels.
The network will also offer programming from producer/actor Tim Reid's Millennium Studios, including such series as American Legacy, Gospel Challenge and Cowboys of Color.
The network does have original series on the docket, including Gospel of Music, On Point with Armstrong Williams
and The Tom Joyner Sky Show.