African-American Digi-NetsElbow for Position

What makes the three distinct from each other? Charles Barkley, for one
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Three separate multicast networks targeting the African- American audience are trumpeting their virtues at NATPE—and making the case that there is room on the dial for their distinct programming. Bounce TV has a healthy head start—it launched last September and has received favorable reviews from viewers. In its wake is a pair of hopefuls—Soul of the South and Kin TV—eyeing spring launches and playing up key points of differentiation.

Edwin Avent, chairman and CEO of Soul of the South, witnessed the array of multicast networks targeting the Hispanic population, including Estrella TV and LATV, and figured there is room for a clutch of niche African-American diginets too. “[African-Americans] make up the second-largest part of the economy,” Avent says. “I think there’s room within our population to segment people.”

While multicast channels’ contributions to stations’ bottom lines remain modest, local TV executives speak with increased excitement about their subchannel offerings. Racking up praise and affiliate partners are entertainment nets such as This TV and Me-TV. Among the more targeted multicast channels are music network TheCoolTV, healthy living net Live Well and testosteronecharged Tuff TV.

Marketers are eager to reach the African- American community, which represented 12.6% of the U.S. population in the 2010 Census. Bounce TV, taglined “TV Our Way,” launched on stations owned by Raycom, Nexstar and Gannett, among others. Based in Atlanta, the network targets people 25-54 with movies, syndicated programming, original shows and sports.

Bounce’s executives would not be interviewed, but they issued a statement that reads: “Bounce TV is the first and only network of its kind on the air, already reaching nearly 75% of African- American television homes thanks to tremendous distribution with powerful station groups…which in turn has led to immediate success in local market ratings and strong advertiser demand.”

News of Bounce TV’s station partnerships in various U.S. markets has prompted substantial viewer feedback on broadcastingcable.com, much of it expressing gratitude to Bounce for a fresh viewing option.

Station partners are enthusiastic, too. In December, Bounce posted a 0.4 totalday rating on WVUE New Orleans— doubling cable rival TV One and putting it within reach of established cable nets such as MSNBC and Comedy Central. Station sales managers say Bounce allows advertisers to reach out to an under-served sector of the population. Louis Gattozzi, vice president and general manager at WROC Rochester (N.Y.), says a Ford dealer, tech schools and local attorneys are among the advertisers on Rochester’s Bounce.

“It offers the opportunity for people to market to African-Americans in their community,” Gattozzi says. “We haven’t had a huge amount of feedback, but the African-American community has responded favorably.” (Bounce is strictly over-the-air in Rochester.)

Soul of the South is headed up by Avent, formerly publisher of Heart & Soul magazine, and bears the tagline “This Is Home.” Also based in Atlanta, the network is geographically targeted; while it plans to launch in Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago, most station partners will be in the southern U.S. Avent would not reveal affiliates at presstime, but says the channel plans to launch with 24-30 stations on board.

Besides syndicated shows, movies and religious programming, Soul is partnering with Iowa-based Independent News Network on network newscasts that will leave windows for local inserts. Soul also plans to add its own talent and news director, though Avent would not offer names.

Soul’s news offerings stem from the lack of African-American voices in the U.S. news landscape, says Avent. “As I flip through the channels, I try to find perspectives that reflect our own sentiments,” he says. “We want to attract news-watchers who want to hear it from a different perspective.”

Kin TV, with a “We’re All Connected” tagline, is spearheaded by former TV One programming executive Lee Gaither, with an assist from his old Auburn University classmate, former NBA star Charles Barkley, whom Gaither describes as a cofounder, investor and “active participant” in programming decisions. (A rep for Barkley had no comment at presstime.)

Gaither also would not reveal distribution partners, finalizing deals up until NATPE. What is known is that some of the Fox-owned MyNetworkTV outlets plan to carry the channel. (WWOR New York and KCOP Los Angeles plan to air both Bounce and Kin on their subchannels, a significant commitment to the African-American communities in those markets.) Gaither says Kin’s programming will be a mix of station-produced content, documentaries from an outside production outfit and content similar to what is seen on HGTV, Food Network and Travel Channel—but produced for African- American viewers. “There’s a lifestyle zone that’s been dabbled in before,” he says, “but never gone at full bore.”

Industry insiders wonder if there is room for all three, and note that planning to launch a network is a lot easier than actually getting one on the air. One insider who asked not to be named says African-American nets are a favorable sell for channel distributors, but truly standout programming will decide who finds a place in the packed TV landscape.

“People want to watch great programming,” says the insider, “as opposed to African-American or Hispanic or white programming.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone

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