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TV One on Target for Launch But Missing Wide Carriage

1/04/2004 07:00:00 PM Eastern

When TV One, the long-planned cable channel for African-American adults, launches Jan. 19, it will look like a "traditional" broadcast or general-entertainment cable network, says channel President Johnathan Rodgers. But this cable network is armed with an estimated $130 million dedicated to startup and Comcast as an owner, so the industry will be watching intensely.

"This is a full-service network," says Rodgers, a veteran of cable and broadcast, having toiled at Discovery Networks and CBS, "but the focus is on African-American adults." That means everything from a morning exercise show to TLC-style fare in daytime for women and dramas and comedies in prime time.

But African-Americans are already heavy consumers of general-market TV, and inducing them to take up a new channel may be challenging. Rodgers, however, is not intimidated: "We're so focused on our audience we can make this work."

It helps that TV One is also backed by considerable media muscle, with the country's largest cable operator, Comcast Cable, and minority-owned radio group Radio One as co-owners. Comcast is giving TV One analog carriage on its biggest systems, including Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington and Baltimore. And Radio One is lending heavy marketing support.

So far, though, no other cable or satellite operators have signed on. Getting carriage—and, specifically, distribution on basic or expanded basic cable—is critical to TV One's survival. The network has ambitious programming plans, including a full slate of non-scripted originals. The net has already acquired former broadcast dramas City of Angels
and Under One Roof
and classic comedies 227
and Good Times. Rodgers says he is still shopping for more off-nets and is closing in on a big Hollywood-movie package.

"When you look at the amount of money we're investing, to put us on our digital dial, that's just wrong," says Rodgers. "We can't be successful like BET or USA or Discovery without the help of the operators and advertisers. We have to be on basic."

TV One is said to be asking operators for up to 15¢ per subscriber. BET, which is largely a basic-cable play, gets an average 12¢ per sub, according to Kagan World Media estimates.

While Rodgers and his team hunt for more distribution, the network's programming grid is taking form. In daytime, the anchor will be a second window for lifestyle maven B. Smith's syndicated show, B. Smith With Style. Come March, TV One will add dating show Getting the Hook Up
and makeover show Makeover Manor
(both are working titles). These shows are an example of customizing popular genres for African-American audiences, Rodgers says. "They exist in the general market," he notes, but "they are rarely about us."

Prime time features an hour of comedies at 8 p.m. ET, originals at 9 p.m. and a drama hour at 10 p.m. Friday night will be movie night.

In the first quarter, Good Times
will run in the comedy block and City of Angels
at 10 p.m. The originals will vary by night and cover a broad swath of interests. On the lighter side, there's Gospel Challenge, an American Idol-style competition for gospel choirs; entertainment-news program Urban Access, produced by a unit of NBC; and Cowboys of Color, a reality show about a black rodeo circuit. More serious shows include Then and Now, about what happens to former star athletes once their sports careers end, and biography series One People.
The network also plans original documentaries, with the first addressing slave reparations.

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