BY JON LAFAYETTE More cable networks are on the way. They’re looking to fill a variety of niches and to have very different pedigrees. With Comcast as one of its major backers, the new network from Radio One targeting African-American adults would appear to be assured of success, even though no network other than BET has found traction pursuing that market. Radio One, Comcast and other financial backers plan to pour $130 million into the channel. And with Comcast serving 21 of the top 25 urban markets, it’s a good bet the as-yet-unnamed network quickly will reach the bulk of its target market. “The market is under-served,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said during a conference call last week. He added that starting a new channel is a “very good business decision,” noting that cable networks are assets to which the financial markets assign a high value. In addition to distribution, the new network will benefit from promotion by Radio One’s urban-oriented stations. Radio One will receive equity in exchange for advertising time as part of the deal. Varsity TV, another network launched last week, targets teenage viewers whose interests lie between Nickelodeon and MTV. VTV president Joe Shults ran the West Coast office for MTV, Nickelodeon and VH1, and later worked at E! Shults declined to name the private investors who are backing the channel or to say how much money they’re putting up. VTV said it has secured a slot on a new pod on Head-end in the Sky, and arranged an agreement with the National Cable Television Cooperative. Sample programming has been made available on the satellite so operators can preview the channel. The network has bought shows for teens produced internationally and also has been collecting thousands of video clips shot by teens. Shults expects the network to be in 10 million homes by the end of the year and 20 million by the end of next year. For the new African-American network, Comcast’s backing means it is likely to get the distribution it needs and have staying power. “Operators will know that from the get-go. A lot of channels don’t have that,” Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins said. Radio One had been considering a hip-hop network. But last week, Liggins said the new network is targeting viewers in the 25-to-54-year-old age group. “We’re not going there to compete with BET. This marketplace can support more than one good idea,” he said. Competition or not, BET seemed to take the announcement in stride. “The idea of launching another cable channel option targeting African-Americans — or somehow competing with BET, for that matter — is not new,” said BET president Debra Lee in a statement. One competitor, MBC, is on some Comcast systems. Naturally, there is concern Comcast may favor its new network before putting MBC in more homes. “I don’t think that’s really going to be an issue,” said Samara Cummins, MBC’s VP, affiliate sales.

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