Comcast in deals with stars to launch new cable networks


Comcast, which struck a deal with the FCC to add more minority-owned channels when it bought NBCUniversal, announced deals to add two African-American and two Hispanic networks to its cable systems. The new networks were proposed by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Robert Rodriguez, and Constantino “Said” Schwarz.

“We are thrilled to work with such talented individuals to launch these new networks that will bring exciting and fresh content to consumers,” said Comcast Exec. VP David Cohen. “Comcast is committed to delivering programming that reflects the interests of our customers, and we look forward to integrating these great networks into our rich programming line-up.”

“This is so exciting for me, I’m pinching myself,” Johnson (pictured) told the Los Angeles Times. His new network, Aspire, is scheduled for launch on June 30th. It will compete with TV One, which Comcast launched a few years back with Radio One, and long-established BET (owned by Viacom). In the LA Times article Magic Johnson acknowledged that the venture carries risks, noting that Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, a joint venture with Discovery Communications, is struggling to attract viewers despite her star power. “We’ll learn from those who have gone before us. We understand the landscape, and we will run a sound business,” he said.

The LA Times article stated that Magic Johnson Enterprises has a stake in the Inner City radio station group. That was a little premature, since the article was published a few hours before a US Bankruptcy Court judge was to rule on whether to approve the sale. But he does have an interest in some Phoenix radio stations and recently became Chairman of Vibe holdings by investing in the magazine/entertainment company.

In announcing the four deals, Comcast noted that it made a series of voluntary public interest commitments in connection with the NBCUniversal transaction, one of which is to launch 10 new independently owned and operated networks over the next eight years. Of the 10 networks, four will be majority African-American owned, two will be majority American Latino owned, two will be operated by American Latino programmers, and two will provide additional independent programming. Ultimately, each of the 10 networks will be added on select Comcast systems as part of the digital basic tier of service.

Here is Comcast’s description of the four new networks:

African-American Category:

Aspire: Spearheaded by Entrepreneur and NBA Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson, in partnership with GMC TV, Aspire is dedicated to delivering enlightening, entertaining and positive programming to African-Americans families, including movies, documentaries, short films, music, comedy, visual and performing arts, and faith and inspirational programs. Aspire will celebrate the successes, achievements and accomplishments of the African-American community and create new opportunities for the next generation of African-American visionaries. The network will launch by summer 2012.

“Aspire will be a network that encourages and challenges African-Americans to reach for their dreams and will appeal to all generations. Aspire will celebrate our heritage, our groundbreaking achievements and the fearless talent that has shaped American culture. I’m most excited about Aspire creating opportunities for the new voices, new visions and the next generation of storytellers,” said Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

REVOLT: Proposed by superstar and entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs and MTV veteran Andy Schuon, this network is designed to have programming inspired by music and pop culture, including music videos, live performances, music news, and interviews and will incorporate social media interaction for music artists and fans. The network has entered into an agreement to launch in 2013.

“REVOLT is the first channel created entirely from the ground up in this new era of social media” said Sean “Diddy” Combs. “We’re building this platform for artists to reach an extraordinary number of people in a completely different way. REVOLT will be live, like all great moments in television history. REVOLT will also be immediate, like today’s social networks. We know it was a highly competitive process and we want to thank Comcast for this opportunity to truly change television with REVOLT.”

Hispanic Category:

El Rey: Proposed by legendary Hollywood director Robert Rodriguez and FactoryMade Ventures executives John Fogelman and Cristina Patwa, this network is designed to be an action-packed, general entertainment network in English for Latino and general audiences that includes a mix of reality, scripted and animated series, movies, documentaries, news, music, comedy, and sports programming. The El Rey network will include programming that features Hispanic producers, celebrities and public figures. The network has entered into an agreement to launch by January 2014.

“This partnership with Comcast signals an important moment for the Latino community in this country – we are passionate about creating a wildly entertaining destination that we can be proud of by appealing to both Latino and mass market audiences,” said Robert Rodriguez and CEO of FactoryMade Ventures John Fogelman. “We engineered El Rey to address a burgeoning opportunity to deliver unique, high-quality and compelling content to a hard-to-reach demographic and are excited to bring more opportunities to generations of talent, storytellers and dreamers through this special partnership.”

BabyFirst Americas: Proposed by Spanish language television veteran Constantino “Said” Schwarz, this network is designed for infants, very young children, and their parents, and emphasizes the importance of early development of verbal, math and motor skills. The network has entered into an agreement to launch by April 2012.

“We are thrilled to partner with Comcast and commend them for recognizing the importance of quality education for young children,” remarked Constantino “Said” Schwarz, CEO and Chairman BabyFirst Americas. “BabyFirst Americas aims to bring the essential academic building blocks for Kindergarten readiness into the home, making it accessible for families all across the U.S.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Launching with Comcast, the biggest MSO of all, obviously gives a big leg up to a new network, as evidenced by the success of TV One. But delivery to millions of TV households is just the beginning. You have to have content that attracts eyeballs.

Magic Johnson may have another advantage for the launch of Aspire. He’ll be able to use the Inner City stations in New York, San Francisco, Columbia, SC and Jackson, MS, as well as the Riviera stations in Phoenix to cross-promote programming on Aspire. That’s an approach that helped Radio One get TV One off the ground.