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DirecTV Buys Into TV One

DirecTV Inc. last week provided a major boost to TV One not only by launching the upstart African-American-targeted service, but also taking a financial interest in the network.

The direct-broadcast satellite carriage deal — which places the network on DirecTV’s entry-level “Total Choice” package — puts TV One’s subscriber count in hailing distance of 20 million households.

“It’s a huge deal for us to have 18 million subscribers before completing our first year on the air,” said TV One president Johnathan Rodgers. “What I love most about it is the recognition by the satellite and cable operator of the African-American consumer.”

Officials from DirecTV and TV One would not comment on the satellite service’s equity investment in TV One, currently owned by Comcast Corp. and Radio One Inc.

But Radio One executive vice president and CFO Scott Royster said the transaction means the stakes held by Radio One and Comcast, both at 40%, would drop to the mid-30% range.

DirecTV joins Comcast, Insight Communications, Adelphia Communications Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Cox Communications Inc. as TV One affiliates. Rodgers said the network is in active negotiations with several other major distributors and hopes to have several deals in place in the near future, but would not leverage its DirecTV deal to force operators to carry the service.

“We will not use DirecTV against the cable operators, as we didn’t use the cable operators against DirecTV,” he said.

Rodgers said the additional DirecTV subscribers will help the network boost its ad-sales efforts, particularly with its ability to reach urban areas with significant African-American communities like New York, Houston, Miami, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C.

TV One also gained some ground on the nearly 80-million subscriber Black Entertainment Television. “By increasing their subscriber base with DirecTV’s help, programming on TV One can finally be measured accurately by Nielsen Media Research for a realistic sense of their viewership and ratings,” said BET president and COO Debra Lee. “Any comparisons to BET can now be based on legitimate data instead of network promotion and sales material.”

For DirecTV, the deal gives the company equity it what it believes is a well-run, formidable network. “We thought the management team’s a good one. We thought the idea was a good one and they have some good people behind them,” said DirecTV executive vice president of programming Stephanie Campbell. “I think all the way around it’s a win-win for us.”