- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2004

Most viewers in the Washington area were probably asleep at 12:01 this morning when cable television’s TV One debuted.

Not Johnathan Rodgers.

Even though the network’s president and chief executive spent most of last week screening programming in his Lanham office, he still planned to be in front of his living room set when TV One’s first images flickered across the screen.

“This isn’t just the launch of a television network. This is a movement,” Mr. Rodgers said.

You can hardly blame him for being enthused.

TV One will target black viewers ages 25 to 54. It will be the first serious competition for the Black Entertainment Television cable channel, which began in 1979 and caters to younger viewers.

Lanham-based Radio One Inc., the largest owner of radio stations serving black listeners in the United States, is spending $70 million to start TV One. Its main partner is Comcast Holdings Corp., the Philadelphia company that owns the nation’s largest cable television operator.

Other partners include investment groups Constellation Ventures, Opportunity Capital Partners and Pacesetter Capital Group.

TV One will reach 2.2 million subscribers, a modest number compared with BET, which is seen in 78 million households.

Comcast will carry TV One on its systems in the Washington area, including the District, and Montgomery, Prince George’s and Arlington counties, as well as its systems in cities such as Atlanta, Detroit and Baltimore. Systems in Chicago, Philadelphia and Oakland, Calif., will add TV One between February and April.

During its first year, the network will carry original programs such as “Gospel Challenge,” a talent competition among choirs from black churches; “B. Smith with Style,” hosted by restaurateur and homemaking maven Barbara Smith; and “Living It Up with Patti LaBelle,” in which the pop singer cooks, decorates and performs.

It also will draw upon Radio One’s talent pool. Tom Joyner and Russ Parr, two of the radio company’s biggest stars, will host programs on TV One.

In addition, the network will air reruns of long-running sitcoms such as “Good Times,” “227” and “Martin,” as well as dramas such as “City of Angels” and “Under One Roof.”

The production values will be sleek, said Mr. Rodgers, who previously ran Discovery Communications Inc., the parent of the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and other cable networks. “We will look like we’ve been on the air for longer than we have,” he said.

The ideal TV One viewer is a 35-year-old black woman, Mr. Rodgers said. The network appears to be making a concerted effort to appeal to viewers who feel disenfranchised by BET, which has been criticized for airing too many sexy music videos and raunchy comedy programs.

Mr. Rodgers dismisses the suggestion that TV One is a competitor to BET, saying it will complement the older network.

Debra L. Lee, BET’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement, “The idea of launching another cable channel option targeting African-Americans — or competing with BET, for that matter — is not new. BET recognized the importance of the African-American audience 24 years ago. … We will continue to be the leader in providing quality programming to this important demographic group.”

Other networks have tried to compete with BET, a Viacom Inc. subsidiary based in the District. Radio One previously invested in a Chevy Chase-based network, New Urban Entertainment, that never took hold.

Mr. Rodgers is confident TV One will succeed, and talks about adding original series and movies to the network’s schedule over the next five years. The network eventually is expected to move out of Radio One’s corporate offices in Lanham to Silver Spring, where Discovery Communications is based.

Bethesda-based media analyst Gary Arlen said TV One’s pedigree gives it an advantage in the crowded cable universe. Comcast is putting the channel on its systems, and Radio One is promoting the network heavily on its stations.

“In the end, that’s going to be critical,” Mr. Arlen said.

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