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Four Multicultural Nets To Launch With 8 Million Comcast Subs: Sources

3/08/2012 1:25 AM Eastern

Comcast Cable will provide some 8 million subscribers at launch for each of the four new minority owned-and-operated channels it will roll out between April and January 2014, according to industry sources.

The four channels -- African-American targeted Aspire and Revolt, and Hispanic-themed services El Rey Network and Baby First Americas -- will also receive a "fair" licensing fee from Comcast as part of its launch, according to David Cohen, Comcast's executive vice president.

Comcast will launch the channels as part of the merger conditions that allowed it to assume control of NBCUniversal. Overall, Comcast has said it will launch 10 new independent channels over the next eight years, including eight that are owned-and-operated by Hispanics and African-Americans.

Cohen told Multichannel News Wednesday during a reception showcasing network founders Ervin "Magic" Johnson (Aspire), Sean "P Diddy" Combs (Revolt), Robert Rodriguez (El Rey Network) and Constantino "Said" Schwarz (Baby First Americas) that the networks would receive "very substantial launches" but would not reveal specifics.

Sources close to the networks however, confirmed that the networks would launch on Comcast's highly penetrated digital basic tier with around 8 million subscribers.

Cohen also said the network would receive "fair rates," but would not provide details.

"We understand that none of these networks will be successful if they only are carried on Comcast," he said. "We tried to give them enough of a head start at launch to give them exposure and a real shot in the arm and so that they can sell these networks to other cable and satellite providers and telcos right off the bat."

Cohen said that the MSO will most likely go through another selection process to choose the rest of the 10 new networks it has committed to launch as part of its NBCU deal.

"We'll probably do another RFP process with those (networks) who weren't successful this round and new (entries)," he said.

Cohen said if any of the chosen networks are not successful, the MSO will not look to replace it with another minority owned and operated service. "Our obligation is to launch, not to carry them in perpetuity," he said. "That's why I'm so passionate about these channels -- I'm not interested in launching a network that isn't going to be successful."

Johnson said he's committed to successfully operating and launching this June Aspire, a family-friendly, entertainment-based network targeting African-American audiences. "I've built my brand in urban America, I know what African-Americans want, and I will deliver," he said.

Combs said Comcast's commitment to the four multicultural themed networks, including his Revolt service -- a 24-hour music entertainment channel which he defined as the "CNN or ESPN for music" that will launch in 2013 -- is a major step toward offering more diversity on television.

"Hopefully the world will follow suit and realize in different industries that we're not represented truly the way the world is and what your eyes actually see," he said.

Added Rodriguez, whose entertainment programming-themed El Rey Network will target Hispanic households: "No longer do we have to go and protest for more representation on television because we have that now ... we have a direct pipeline to people to show them stories and tell them what we want to say and have a voice. What's amazing about this opportunity is that you can not only reflect the indentify of a culture, you can shape it." The service is slated to debut in January 2014.

Schwarz said his BabyFirst Americas, an Hispanic-themed, English-language network that would target infants, young children and parents set to launch this spring, would not only provide quality, multicultural programming but also will create numerous employment opportunities both in front of and behind the camera. The network is scheduled to bow in April.

"This channel will empower the Latino community through job and wealth creation as we have already started to work with many producers and directors in the Latino community," he said.