With more cable systems coming aboard, TV One is on its way
By Andrew Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/19/2004 8:00:00 PM
NAMIC Crafts a Diverse Confab
Cable networks that have sought to replicate BET's success with African-American audiences have come and gone like the latest hip-hop star. But TV One stands a better chance than most for making the cut. Comcast Corp. owns almost 40% and has aggressively launched the lifestyle-and-entertainment network in many of its urban systems. Broadcaster Radio One is controlling partner, and venture capital firm Constellation One owns 10%.
President and CEO Johnathan Rodgers, who used to run Discovery Channel, has surrounded himself with a veteran team of former senior executives from Discovery, Turner and Comedy Central. TV One, which debuted in January, has three new shows lined up for the fall: a cooking show, a makeover program and a food program. The network even has a "returning" show,Living It Up With Patti LaBelle. Comcast, Charter and Adelphia are on board, with Cox expected to carry the network this fall. Time Warner Cable and Cablevision are dicier propositions, but TV One has mainly analog launches for which it charges in the 5¢- to 9¢-per-subscriber range. Recently, Rodgers talked about TV One's plans with Andrew Grossman.
In the realm of competing against BET, many are called, but few are chosen. Why should TV One succeed?
BET's self-selected audience is primarily 18-34, with their median age being around 21 or 22. We're going after adults 18-49 and 25-54. The essence of BET is primarily the music videos, their standup comedy. We are into more lifestyle-and-entertainment programming. We do not regard ourselves as a competitor to BET. They are just too powerful and too well established. Our audience is totally underserved on cable, and broadcast as well.
You seem to have a lot of acquired programming on your schedule. Don't operators like to see more original programming?
Yes and no. That's why we evolved as a lifestyle-and-entertainment network: because I'll be able to ramp up to more original programming faster. We in the cable industry also know that, when we beat the [broadcast] networks in ratings, it's Law & Order on TNT, it's CSI on USA. From a marketing point of view, if I have limited funds and limited distribution, I would rather spend my money pushing my original shows. Prime time will be, like most cable networks, a mix of original and acquired programming. While most cable networks are about 80% acquired, our goal in even our first full year will be to be 70% acquired and 30% original [on a total-day basis]. Lifetime is, in fact, the model, and they are 80-20, acquired to original.
What's the role TV One plays for black viewers?
African-Americans watch 50% more television weekly than does the general population. African-Americans watch television differently. When you look at the top 25 ratings for the general population, rarely does it mirror the top 25 ratings for the African-American population. African-Americans love to watch programs that are about us, respect us, show our history and culture, and feature us. I was looking at an ad for the upcoming The Apprentice, and I had sort of mixed emotions when I saw the gallery of participants. On the one hand, I said, "Here we go again, one black male, one black female. Is that all we're going to get out of life?" Then I said, "Hey, that's why TV One exists."
But skeptics wonder if operators don't need TV One, because African-Americans are already watching cable.
No operator has said that to us. On top of that, the moment BET was sold, there was no major African-American-owned network on cable or satellite, and that is the real tragedy. [Hypothetically,] if you live in South Dakota and you've never seen an African-American, if you see BET you'd be inclined to believe that's the way all African-Americans are. It's important for the diversity and understanding of this country that a service like TV One exists.
You do public affairs but not news per se.
The majority of the original programs we've had on since we launched are public-affairs programs. We have fresh live interviews with black Americans. You have [Secretary of State] Colin Powell talking about why he believes in affirmative action; you have [National Security Advisor] Condoleezza Rice talking about why she can't forget that she's an African-American because she was in Birmingham that Sunday morning when those four little girls were blown up in church. Where we will not be active is in the news area, which is a lesson I learned at Discovery. If the audience expectation is that you don't do news or that's not who you are, then you shouldn't do it.
You have yet to sign carriage deals with Cox, Time Warner and Cablevision.
We've having real positive conversations with Cox and Time Warner. I said to my affiliate-sales people I'd love to be in communities where African-Americans live first. Because 50% of all African-Americans live in the top 25 markets, I've asked them to focus on those markets.
Is it ironic to you that Time Warner is headed by Dick Parsons, an African-American, and yet Time Warner systems are resisting TV One?
As an African-American executive who has run multicultural companies, it always bothered me that people would think, just because I was black, I would favor them. The fact is, business is business. We don't even go to Dick Parsons to talk about TV One; we go to [Time Warner Cable chief] Glenn Britt.
You're not offering launch fees. How do you expect to get analog launches?
One, we are a great business proposition. Two, the operators recognize the value of the service, and we have a hidden gem. Our partner is Radio One, and it has 68 radio stations. Plus, we have deals with urban cable systems. We just promote all the time. I use radio and television. We may only be in 4.5 million homes, but I can reach millions of people through the radio airwaves. And I'm on the radio all the time pushing TV One and saying, "Buy your digital box, buy your high-speed Internet." That's my promise to the cable operator. We are so well funded that I have enough money to do the right thing from day one. But long term, we have to convince the cable operators that we have to be partners in the same way that they are partners with ESPN and are partners with TNT. We're not a service that gives away distribution. That is not a model for success.
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