Ex-Discovery Channel executive to lead new black cable network

Comcast, Radio One pick Rodgers to head venture slated to start next year

March 25, 2003|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Radio One Inc. said yesterday that it and partner Comcast Corp. have tapped the former president of Discovery Communication's U.S. networks to head up its planned cable channel targeting black viewers.

Johnathan A. Rodgers, who resigned as president of Discovery Communications' U.S. programming unit last year after six years with the company, was named chief executive officer and president of the yet-to-be named channel.

Rodgers, 57, brings with him a wide range of cable operating and programming experience.

Under his leadership, Discovery launched the successful Animal Planet channel, which in five years grew to reach 80 million households.

During his tenure there the company also created the Discovery Health Channel, which grew to 35 million viewers, and relaunched the Travel Channel, which garnered 35 million viewers in fewer than three years.

"Given his experience and background, we thought he was perfectly suited to run the channel," said Scott R. Royster, Radio One executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Rodgers, a Washington resident, also spent 20 years at CBS Inc. in a variety of executive positions, including president of the television stations division.

Comcast, the country's largest cable provider, and Radio One, the nation's largest company targeting black radio listeners, announced in January that they had set up a joint venture to start the cable channel.

Radio One agreed to put up most of the cash investment, $70 million, and would be in charge of choosing a management team to run the station.

Comcast and three other investors will invest $60 million. Analysts have said Comcast's reach - 21 million households - and expertise give the venture a powerful advantage.

Rodgers and Alfred C. Liggins III, Radio One president and chief executive officer, first met 18 months ago when they discussed Liggins' hopes of buying a cable channel.

"I had numerous conversations with Alfred Liggins about the channel and the possibility of me being involved with it," Rodgers said yesterday from his new office at Radio One's Lanham headquarters.

Company officials would not say how many other people were in line for the job.

The new channel will join at least two other networks serving a black audience, Washington-based Black Entertainment Television and Atlanta-based Major Broadcasting Cable Network. MBCN recently announced it was creating a 24-hour news channel aimed at African-Americans.

The Radio One channel was scheduled to launch at mid-year, but Rodgers said it has been pushed back to early 2004 to allow time for hiring a staff and creating a programming lineup. He expects to have a staff of 50 to 75 employees. Cable systems also are more likely to have open slots for new channels at the beginning of the year, he said.

"Our biggest mission is to convince cable operators that this station is worth a slot on their dial," Rodgers said.

Tom Taylor, editor of Inside Radio, an industry newsletter, said Rodgers' credentials should help the company win over cable companies.

"Chiseling channel space out of a crowded lineup isn't easy," Taylor said. "While Comcast will play a viable role they need additional partners. They need credibility and contacts and I think that's what Johnathan brings. He's somebody whose phone calls are going to get returned."

The company has not decided where the station will be based. It will hold a contest on Radio One radio stations to come up with a name, a strategy that will also help promote the new network, Rodgers said.

Rodgers said the station will include a mix of original and outside programming. He said launching the station will prove a challenge for him because it will include more entertainment programming than Discovery channels, which were information based.

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