Black-oriented network to launch on King holiday

Radio One sets Jan. 19 for debut of TV One cable

November 13, 2003|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Radio One Inc., in conjunction with partner Comcast Corp., said yesterday that it plans to launch its cable network targeting African-American viewers on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Jan. 19, with a goal of being in half of the nation's 12 million black television households on that day, including those in Baltimore.

"We will be in business and up in the sky on the 19th," Radio One President and Chief Executive Officer Alfred Liggins III said in a conference call with analysts.

The cable network, to be called TV One, will offer a different line of programming than two others serving African-American viewers - Washington-based Black Entertainment Television and Atlanta-based Major Broadcasting Cable Network.

TV One officials said it will target a more mature audience, over age 25. Unlike BET, which has been criticized for airing more entertainment than substantive programming, TV One will carry no music videos.

Instead, it will air more dramas, documentaries and original programming, Liggins said.

Some of the shows lined up include:

Gospel Challenge - A talent show with comedian Jonathan Slocumb as host, in which gospel choirs compete for a recording contract.

B. Smith Holiday Special - Lifestyle and culinary specialist B. Smith will be host for holiday specials based around celebrations such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Juneteenth, a commemoration of the ending of slavery in America. She also will have a daytime series called B. Smith with Style.

Under One Roof - James Earl Jones will star as the patriarch of a middle-class family whose son and family move in after a military stint overseas.

City of Angels - A drama series that aired on CBS in 2001 about the lives of doctors and nurses at an inner-city hospital. The show features stars such as Vivica A. Fox, Blair Underwood and Gabrielle Union.

TV One declined to say how many cable markets have been signed up to air the channel, pending final agreements with cable companies. But the company hopes to benefit from its partnership with Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator with 22 million subscribers. TV One also is trying to sell the network to other cable operators.

Liggins said the company's expectation is that about 20 percent of its audience will be analog cable subscribers rather than those with the more expensive digital cable. There are more analog subscribers than digital.

The cable start-up, which has yet to sign on any advertisers, will begin a monthlong tour of advertising agencies tomorrow, said Johnathan Rodgers, the former Discovery Channel executive who was brought on in March to head up TV One. Rodgers said many of the companies want to see strong distribution numbers before committing to advertising.

"The early reaction is such that I'm not concerned," Rodgers said. "They agree that it is important in our society for African-Americans, like every other group, to have a choice, and that one channel isn't enough for all 40 million of us."

Rodgers said that his team will seek to sell joint advertising that markets to Radio One listeners and TV One viewers. Lanham-based Radio One is the largest radio company that tailors its content to African-American listeners.

Radio One, Comcast and four private investors are splitting the estimated $130 million cost of financing the cable station for its first four years. In the conference call, Radio One officials said they had posted $939,000 in third-quarter costs associated with launching the cable network, prompting concern among some analysts. Tuna Amobi, a senior analyst with Standard & Poor's in New York, said he is worried about how the TV venture will affect cash flow in the short term.

"There's no question there are some key operational obstacles that are out there," Amobi said. "In the near term, we're more cautious until we get a better idea about how the station will evolve."

Jason Helfstein, an analyst with CBC World Markets in New York, said Radio One is on target with its plan.

"Everything they've said has happened at the rate they said," Helfstein said "That's the most important thing."

Radio One also posted third-quarter results yesterday. Net broadcast revenue was $81.5 million, a 1 percent increase from a year ago. Net income was $16.7 million, or 16 cents per share, a 30 percent increase from the previous third quarter, when net income was $12.8 million or 12 cents per share.

Radio One stock closed yesterday at $17, up 42 cents, on the Nasdaq stock market.

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