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Better Late Than Never for African-American Nets

When plans were revealed for a pair of start-up multicast networks targeting African-American viewers and competing with Bounce TV, the space looked as lively as any. But as the third quarter approaches, principals at the new concepts, KIN TV and Soul of the South, have realized just how hard it is to bring their channels to life.

Soul of the South had initially pegged the first quarter for its debut; network executives are now saying the first half of September. KIN TV, which no longer has MGM on board, is shooting for August with a modest launch group. As execs at the established digital networks happily note, there is a big difference between issuing a press release about a new channel and actually getting it on the air.

“This thing is not a perfect science,” says Chip Harwood, Soul of the South senior distribution consultant and a veteran of the digi-net world.

Soul of the South’s holdup, say its execs, is tied to the decision to launch its own master control operation, which they say will go live in Little Rock, Ark., in the next few weeks. “We decided to step back and get a handle on technology and infrastructure,” says chairman/CEO Edwin Avent.

Soul aims to set itself apart with a trio of newscasts—content coming from headquarters, from affiliates, and from a dozen or so bureaus around the South. With massive political spending targeting TV news come fall, the network has incentive to be on the air by then.

Some affiliates have taken the delays in stride. “The African- American market is vastly under-served,” says William Ballard, president and general manager at WIAT Birmingham (Ala.). “I think there’s a huge opportunity to provide free over-theair television to this community.”

Others are less patient. At least one station is in advanced talks to bump Soul of the South in favor of This TV, with the station’s GM saying he is losing money with a placeholder on his multicast tier.

KIN TV, meanwhile, is targeting a mid-August soft launch for five to 10 stations. “We’re still very much alive,” insists CEO Lee Gaither.

That’s despite some big setbacks. Initially, MGM was said to be a distribution partner; now it’s not. Some Fox-owned MyNetworkTV stations were lined up to air KIN, but a Fox representative says that’s no longer the case. Gaither says former NBA star Charles Barkley remains a KIN partner. “He’s involved in every content decision,” says Gaither. (Barkley’s management confirmed his role.)

Bounce TV, meanwhile, has 70 partner stations and introduces its first two original series this week.

Industry insiders say it costs anywhere from $5 million to $20 million (and up) to get a digi-net up and running. Some, like the concept known as .2, never see the light of day.

Skeptics abound, but the chiefs at Soul of the South and KIN say they’ll get on the air—soon. “I feel very strongly we’ll launch by [September],” Soul’s Avent says.

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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.