New black cable channel debuts

Johnathan Rodgers is president of TV One, a cable channel geared to blacks. TV One hopes to compete with BET.

Published: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2004 at 11:53 p.m.

LANHAM, Md. - There may be hundreds of channels on cable television, but Johnathan Rodgers says there's still something missing for black viewers.

Sure, there are networks for men, women, animal lovers, game show fans and even people nostalgic for old soap operas. But what typical black viewers don't see, said the president of a new network geared toward blacks, is many people who look like them.

''If you want to see a makeover show where your hair and skin happens to be a different texture or color, what do you watch? If you want to see a horror movie where the first person killed isn't black, where do you go?'' Rodgers asks.

The answer, he hopes, is the upstart TV One network, which debuted Monday in several metropolitan markets across the country.

With a mixture of lifestyle shows, documentaries and reruns of old sitcoms and dramas, TV One hopes to woo an audience that Rodgers says is starved for black-oriented programming.

TV One and its corporate backers, Comcast Corp. and urban radio company Radio One, are taking on the dominant and largely unchallenged leader of the urban television market - Viacom's BET.

TV One claims it targets a different demographic, saying it will go for viewers aged 24 to 54 who might not be interested in the hip-hop and other youth-oriented programming on BET.

However, industry analysts say the two will likely compete for viewers and advertising money, although they note that on cable systems with so many different choices, there is probably enough room for both.

''There should be more than two cable channels that aggressively target African-Americans in a universe of more 200 channels,'' said Jason Helfstein, a media analyst with CIBC World Markets Corp.

Rodgers, a former Discovery Communications executive, said Comcast and Radio One created TV One because of a dearth of program for the largely untapped black adult audience, which he calls ''underserved.''

Market research seems to confirm that - Nielsen ratings from 2000 show blacks watched much more television by household and demographic group than the general population. But only one network - BET - actively seeks to solely tap the estimated $631 billion in buying power that blacks flexed in 2002.

A new network will likely be attractive to people frustrated with the current shortage of black programming on cable, according to Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a Chicago-based black media trade publication.

''Anything that comes on TV One we already know is targeted to me as an African-American viewer,'' Smikle said. ''If I have to sit through Discovery Channel to wait for something that is specific interest to me as an African-American, I could be waiting a while.''

The product of a deal forged last year between Comcast and Radio One, TV One launches with a commitment from both companies and other investors for $130 million over the next four years. It will air Monday and be available to 2.2 million cable subscribers in markets such as Washington-Baltimore, Detroit and Atlanta.

For the first few months, much of TV One's programming will be a mix of new shows combined with retreads such as sitcoms ''227'' and ''Good Times,'' as well as the short-lived CBS drama ''City of Angels.''

The network plans to add original programming in the coming months, such as a showdown between gospel choirs for a cash prize, a dating show hosted by radio personality Russ Parr and a series hosted by diva Patti Labelle. There are no plans for a news show.

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