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Rodgers to Run Radio One Cable Network

Former Discovery Networks U.S. president Johnathan Rodgers is back in cable as of last week, named CEO of the upstart African-American-targeted network co-owned by Comcast Corp. and Radio One Inc.

Rodgers, who left Discovery in March 2002, will oversee day-to-day operations of the yet-to-be-named service, which industry observers view as positioned to compete with Viacom Inc.'s Black Entertainment Television.

Comcast and Radio One will each own less than 40 percent of the new channel. They're looking for a third party or parties to buy the rest, but won't comment on prospective investors.

Once the financing is complete, Rodgers said he'd like to get the network up and running within six months, or sooner "if there's immediate demand."

Ahead of pack?

The Comcast-Radio One venture is one of several proposed African-American or urban networks looking to gain distribution. The Russell Simmons-led Fabulous TV hip-hop culture channel has yet to announce a launch date or any distribution deals. Major Broadcasting Corp.'s new 24-hour news channel is slated to debut in early 2004.

In a statement, Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins said Rodgers has an incredible track record in operating top-quality, financially successful television ventures, a reference to his six years at Discovery Networks U.S., where Rodgers helped start Animal Planet and relaunched Travel Channel.

"That experience, plus his strong programming skills, will be invaluable as we move forward with this new enterprise to bring high-quality entertainment programming to the African-American and urban television audience," added Liggins, chairman of the new network.

The service will provide entertainment programming targeted to African-American viewers aged 25 to 54.

Rodgers said he'll look to acquire off-network series and movies at first, but would not provide more specifics. He also said the channel would provide public-affairs programming currently not seen on broadcast or cable.

"The emphasis on the channel is entertainment. I want people to laugh, cry and be entertained," Rodgers said. "But we believe that through an effective public-affairs department, we can bring issues to the forefront of African-American viewers."

Rodgers downplayed speculation Comcast would hand the network's administrative duties over to executives from its other owned-and-operated networks.

'Identity' needed

Rodgers welcomes input from Comcast, but made it clear the network will have its own voice and that he, along with Radio One executives, will choose the network's senior executive staff.

"This channel has to have its own identity, and the identity has to be one that comes out of the African-American community," Rodgers said.

Comcast will flex its muscles on the deal-making end. Rodgers said Comcast executives would talk to other MSOs in an effort to secure distribution agreements. He would not reveal the network's rate card.

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.