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TV One: Filling a Gap In 32 Million Homes

12/15/2006 7:00 PM Eastern

Johnathan Rodgers was named president and CEO of TV One in 2003, ahead of the network’s January 2004 launch. He spent the previous six years as president of Discovery Networks U.S. He joined Discovery after having retired from CBS where he worked as a reporter, news director and station general manager before eventually becoming president of the CBS’s owned-and-operated station group. Rodgers is a member of the board of directors of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Nike and Procter & Gamble. He recently spoke to Multichannel News contributor Luis Clemens about distribution, Star Jones and the backing of Comcast. An edited transcript follows:

MCN: TV One is now in 32 million homes. How hard is it to scratch for each additional 1 million homes?

Johnathan Rodgers: We have two main operators that we are still hoping to do deals with. One is Echostar [Communications] and the other is Cablevision [Systems]. Cablevision operates in the Northeast in areas in which there are huge percentages of African-American and Caribbean-American viewers who would truly enjoy TV One’s programming.

Viewers of color in places like Newark [N.J.] or the Bronx [N.Y.] don’t have an opportunity to see TV One. That’s really a big one for us. We really have to concentrate on that because it is important for us to be in business with a company like Cablevision.

Only about 6% of Echostar’s subscribers are African-American. I look at that and say, 'Wow, we can really help them improve their distribution in the African-American community if we work together.’ So we are working with them to try to come to an agreement.

It is just imperative for our business that we successfully complete arrangements with Cablevision and the Dish network

MCN: Star Jones, former co-host of The View, has been telling reporters she will be the executive producer of an upcoming show on TV One. What can you tell me about her plans?

JR: We love that. She will not only be the executive producer of the show, she will be hosting the show. Right or wrong, we are sort of protective of African-Americans who we feel may have been abused or caught in an awkward situation. We are there for Star Jones. Hopefully, this year-end special will just be the start of a lot of good things. We see a direct linkage between someone like Star and TV One.

TV One exists because African-Americans love television so much but there really hasn’t been anything for us. [Black Entertainment Television] has been around for 25 years and it is highly, highly successful; but the fact is BET’s median age is 22. So what do other African-Americans do? That’s why TV One is there for adult African-Americans.

MCN: So much attention has focused on the Latino market over the past few years. Do you think African-American networks have been overlooked as a result?

JR: I do, but I don’t go crazy over this. You cannot reach Spanish-speaking Hispanics in any other way than investing in Spanish-language media. I don’t regard that as being competitive with what we are trying to do at TV One.

I regard our competitors as TNT, Oxygen, Lifetime, TBS or anybody that is out there going after an 18- to 49-year-old or a 25- to 54-year-old audience.

MCN: TV One is still in the red. What needs to be done to become a profitable operation?

JR: We should be profitable by this time next year. It is just a matter of time. It takes most networks five to seven years to turn the corner. It is going to take us three to four years to turn the corner.

MCN: Would your current level of distribution have been possible without Comcast and DirecTV’s part-ownership?

JR: [Comcast CEO] Brian Roberts, please forgive me, but I think the answer is yes. We found white space. We found a significantly large portion of our audience that was not being served by any channels being offered by cable or satellite. Again, BET is black-oriented but serves primarily young people. There was no home base for the millions and millions of African-Americans who love television but were not being served by BET. When we articulated this argument to Time Warner, they weren’t a partner but they did the deal. So did Cox [Communications]. My guess is that the good and intelligent people at Comcast hearing this proposition would have put us on.

Where the partnership with Comcast matters is they helped us get going. They launched us on basic cable in places like Baltimore, Washington, Richmond [Va.], Atlanta, Oakland and that got us off to a roaring start.

Comcast has been a great, great partner. They got us going but I think the proposition of a TV One would have survived without any partnership. It probably would have taken three times as long and we probably would have spent millions of dollars more.

September