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New Digi-Net Adds 'Punch' to African-American Niche

Bounce TV, the thriving African- American-targeted multicast network, was supposed to get stiff competition in what looked like the fastestgrowing niche in the programming world. But while would-be competitors Kin TV and Soul of the South have missed multiple launch dates, casting their very existence into question, another digi-net in the urban space quietly reached a year on the air.

Punch TV, broadcasting to African-Americans, English-speaking Hispanics and anyone else 18-45 who identifies with the urban concept, adds 16 partner stations on Dec. 12, giving it a total of 35—and reaching 55 million U.S. households, according to Joseph Collins, Punch TV founder and CEO.

The affiliates are low-power stations. But Collins, who got his start in broadcasting as a teenage intern at WVTV Milwaukee, says Punch offers something fresh, with a programming mix that’s 70% original.

“The [others] are doing black nostalgia television,” he says. “I am focused on something different.”

Soul of the South had initially pegged the first quarter of 2012 for its debut, while Kin TV shot for August. Kin appeared to suffer a setback upon the announcement last month that Lee Gaither, its former CEO, had joined Africa Channel as executive vice president and general manager. Gaither would not comment, and Kin TV execs could not be reached. One person with knowledge of Soul of the South’s plans said the network was targeting a Martin Luther King Day launch, and set the odds at 50-50 that it would happen.

In a statement, Edwin V. Avent, CEO, says: “We are proud to be near completion of our $10 million initial capital raise and will be announcing our group of Southern investors, who include some of the prominent figures across the sports, political and business landscapes.”

Bounce TV did not comment on Punch. Its execs did not seem to regard the network as direct competition.

As execs at Kin and Soul would attest, getting a network on the air is a giant leap from planning to get a network on the air.

“There are always people announcing they’re launching, but there’s a price to admission to compete in this marketplace,” says Michael Kokernak, president of digital media consultancy Across Platforms Inc. and publisher of the Subchannel Report newsletter. “You need to get money.”

Networks catering to other niches have thrived, including entertainment digi-nets This TV and Me-TV, and lifestyle channel Live Well Network; inking a fresh deal with Belo’s KGW Portland, Live Well now reaches over 65% of U.S. households.

Punch TV features homegrown comedies, dramas, reality shows and films, along with mixed martial arts. Its station partners, including KAOB Beaumont (Texas), KTOU Oklahoma City and WNYN New York, are market minnows, and cable/satellite carriage is sparse.

But some on the affiliate side believe Punch has legs. Vernon Watson, WBQP Pensacola (Fla.) owner/general manager, says the decidedly non-Hollywood feel to Punch’s programming is actually a nice alternative to other channels featuring a slicker look. “We get people calling all the time, asking me if they can get it,” he says. “I guess word has gotten around.”

For his part, Collins is happy to get year one under his belt. “We made some mistakes as a company, but we stuck with the business model,” he says. “And it’s working.”

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