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‘Edutainment’ In HBCU’s Pitch

4/25/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Upstart HBCU Net is hoping to build appeal
for advertisers with its mix of education and entertainment
programming as it prepares to launch later this year.

The network will showcase live college sports and
“edutainment”-based content from the 105 historically
black colleges and universities. The pitch to advertisers is
a unique appeal to African-American and multicultural
high school and college-aged students who are by nature
cultural trendsetters and early adopters of new technology,
according to Clint Evans, HBCU
Net’s executive vice president of distribution
and marketing.

The network is expected to soft
launch this summer or in early fall, with
a full launch expected in February 2012.

EDUTAINMENT BY DAY

The network plans to program its
“edutainment” block — a mix of educationally-
based and entertainment
programming mostly aggregated
from various colleges and universities,
including guest lectures, celebrity
speakers and on-campus entertainment
performances — during afternoon
hours when most networks are
offering repeat or talk-show programming,
but when students are more
likely to watch in an effort to appeal to
advertisers, executive vice president Candice Walker said.

Walker said the network is talking to cable operators,
including Comcast, regarding distribution, although she
would not reveal specific details.

Comcast last year committed to launch 10 independently-
owned networks — including four African-American
owned and targeted networks — as a voluntary condition
with NBC Universal.

Walker said that the network’s programming and community
outreach efforts “speak to the spirit of the mandate
as well as the letter of the mandate as being an independent
network that serves and provides value to Comcast
as well as the general market.”

Comcast officials would not comment directly on HBCU
Net’s prospects with regard to distribution.

‘CHANNEL OF PURPOSE’

“What sets the HBCU Net apart from the other networks
is that we’re a channel of purpose,” she said. “By serving
the 105 institutions that are over 174
years old, we are a channel that is going
to provide programming based
and rooted in sports, but rounded out
richly by edutainment and lifestyle
programming.”

The network has already received an endorsement from the Thurgood Marshall Fund scholarship organization, which believes in the network's vision of educating and entertaining its viewers.

"There's an unmet need and desire to have good programming, so they can fill the void,"said  Johnny Taylor, president of The Thurgood Marshall Fund. "The struggle will be to come out of the box with good programming and live up to that promise."

The promise of an education and entertainment programming mix has also drawn  interest among some advertisers. 

"It will have some appeal to advertisers - they will just have to work to get the viewers there," said Debra Gray-Young, vice president and Media Director, Toyota at Burrell Advertising Agency. "I think the HBCU Net can be huge in helping to shift the current programming paradigm and offer a positive alternative to some of the programming that's already out there. " 

Evans also highlighted the network’s
sports content deals with the four major
HBCU conferences — the Mid-Eastern
Athletic Conference, Southwestern
Athletic Conference, Southern Intercollegiate
Athletic Conference and
Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association
–—particularly in light of the many
stand-alone college conference networks currently on the
air.

The network will benefi t the HBCU schools financially,
with as much as a 20% equity ownership in the network. “It
will allow the schools to educate low income kids better by
having an equity position in the channel by building that
long term asset value and enhancing their endowment,”
she said.

September