Defying the Odds With an Older Skew

When Comcast Corp. and radio station conglomerate Radio One launched African-American-targeted TV One in January 2004, industry observers weren’t sure whether it would meet the same dismal fate other startup companies have experienced going up against the category’s heavyweight, Black Entertainment Television.

One year and nearly 20 million subscribers later, TV One is not only still standing but is poised to be one of the networks to watch for years to come.

Unlike other African-American-focused networks that failed to gain a foothold with cable operators, TV One didn’t look to compete head-to-head for 18-49 viewers with the 84 million subscriber BET. Instead, it went after an older African-American consumer that it felt BET wasn’t adequately serving.

“We were able to service a demographic that had not been served specifically,” says TV One president Johnathan Rodgers. “I know BET is around, but BET tends to attract younger viewers. Prior to TV One’s existence, no one had African-American adults as the primary target.”

Featuring original lifestyle show Living It Up With Patti LaBelle, cooking series Turn Up the Heat With G. Garvin and transformation series Makeover Manor, Rodgers says the network has been able to establish itself as a complement to and not a competitor to BET.

It also doesn’t hurt to have the industry’s top MSO and a major radio station owner as backers. “What created all the momentum was having Comcast as a partner,” Rodgers says. “When they launched us on expanded basic cable on day one in Richmond, [Va.,] Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Detroit, that was something special and created a sense of momentum both internally and externally that we fed off.”

He added the network has yet to take full advantage of the marketing and promotional synergy created through owner Radio One, which owns 68 urban music-based stations in most major U.S. cities. “[Through Radio One] we have the ability to communicate on a daily basis to almost half of all African-Americans in this country,” Rodgers says.

The network last month added a third major media company investor, DirecTV Inc., giving the network even greater access not only to subscribers but to other potential resources through the News Corp.-controlled direct-broadcast satellite service.

Rodgers sees room to grow moving forward. The network has deals with six of the top 10 MSOs, and Rodgers says the network is in conversations with the remaining operators.

On the programming side, the network will roll out its free VOD service, which features up to five hours a month of original programming. In addition, the network later this year will offer a second VOD service featuring gospel music.

The network also plans to offer original scripted fare via short-form programming next year and traditional series content by 2009, according to TV One executive vice president of programming and production Lee Gaither.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.