Tv One's First Steps

TV One slowly finding its niche in marketplace

Channel: In less than four months ago since launch, the black-oriented television alternative outlet has spread from Maryland and Delaware to more than a dozen markets.

April 30, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Reruns of the 1970s sitcom Good Times have kept Teria Rogers returning to TV One, a new cable channel that aims to be an alternative outlet for black-oriented television.

But Rogers, news director for WEAA radio at Morgan State University, is unimpressed by some of its offerings, including a reality show on which gospel choirs compete for a recording contract, sort of a church-pew version of American Idol.

"Godawful," she sniffed, but she said she would continue to support TV One. "You have to give them time to spread their wings. I think it's providing a good alternative for black adults."

In its first four months on the air, the media partnership that Lanham-based Radio One Inc. and Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company, launched in January is slowly making inroads.

TV One has doubled its original audience to more than 4 million cable subscribers in more than a dozen major markets and is in negotiations to enter several more. Financially, it's on track to break even in five years.

Alfred C. Liggins III, Radio One chief executive officer, told analysts during a conference call yesterday that advertisers have been eager to air commercials on the channel. Comcast said it has received calls and e-mail in several of the markets where the channel is carried, thanking the company for airing the channel.

But TV One is still years away from presenting a serious challenge to its main competitor, Black Entertainment Television. That's the 75-million-subscriber channel that Robert L. Johnson sold to Viacom Inc. for $3 billion in 2001. That fortune enabled Johnson to buy the Charlotte Bobcats NBA team and invest in numerous other developments, including a proposed convention center hotel in Baltimore.

No ratings yet

TV One won't receive industry ratings, the barometer for whether people are watching, until it has 20 million subscribers. That could take two or three more years.

The channel started with a major advantage over most cable start-ups. The relationship with Comcast, the Philadelphia-based behemoth that days ago publicly ended its bid for Walt Disney Co., almost guarantees distribution to many of its 22 million subscribers. Radio One, the country's largest urban-format radio company, can promote TV One on its 67 radio stations.

TV One's creators have said their intent is to offer more sophisticated shows aimed at an African-American audience. BET has been criticized by some for airing too many music videos while cutting back on public affairs programming.

TV One does not show any videos but also has no news shows. Its lineup includes lifestyle programs, dramas and public affairs programming.

Reviews of TV One's programming in its initial months have been mixed.

Matthew Felling, a Washington media analyst, said there are too many reruns and that the public affairs shows, including a talk show with conservative political personality Armstrong Williams as host, are too sporadic.

"They dug these programs out of the TV graveyard, put it out on the air and expected the audience to come," said Felling, media director for the Center of Media and Public Affairs, a nonpartisan research group. "TV One left black America TV wanting."

Johnathan A. Rodgers, chief executive officer and president of TV One, defended the programming.

"We're clearly identifying ourselves as a lifestyle and entertainment channel, and we are what we claim to be," he said. "I'm quite pleased with the ways things have been going. The reception from viewers and the advertising community has been outstanding."

Liggins told analysts yesterday that interest in TV One is strong but that negotiations with cable systems to add the station can take months. TV One airs on basic cable, which has fewer channels, so cable operators often must bump others or wait for contracts to expire to include it.

"I feel good about our TV One carriage prospects," Liggins said. "It's just one of those things where it's a grinding process. But that's the nature of the cable business."

Radio One reported yesterday a $2.4 million net loss on the cable network for the first quarter of this year.

"Losses are pretty typical for a new cable station," said Derek Baine, a senior analyst with Kagan World Media, a media, entertainment and communications research firm in California. "They're unique in that they have the push of their radio stations in a lot of markets. As far as I can see, it looks like it's going pretty well."

Overall, Radio One earnings were up in the quarter that ended March 31. Net broadcast revenue was $69.7 million, a 10 percent increase from $63.4 million during the comparable period a year earlier. Net income was $8.8 million, or 8 cents per diluted share, a 28 percent increase from $6.9 million or 7 cents per diluted share last year.

Radio One plans

Liggins said Radio One will not focus solely on television and will continue to seek growth in its radio business. The company announced yesterday that it had bought New Mableton Broadcasting Corp. Inc. for $35 million. The company owns radio station WAMJ-FM in Atlanta and will help Radio One solidify its dominance in the Atlanta market, where it operates four stations.

The company is also exploring an Internet venture in the near future, Liggins said.

"We're going to make an Internet play," he said. "We haven't any Web strategy whatsoever. We feel comfortable we can go in that avenue now and at a bare minimum break even or make some money."

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