Gospel Music Channel today launched wherever Black Family Channel was previously available as a linear channel, in a distribution-triggered deal that gives GMC on nearly 275 additional cable systems.

GMC is now available on Bright House Networks systems in Tampa and Bakersfield, CA; Charter in St. Louis; as a digital network on Comcast Philadelphia, Miami, Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Denver, Houston, Pittsburgh and Sacramento; Cox systems in Hampton Roads and Roanoke, VA, and Omaha; and Time Warner Cable systems in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Kansas City, San Diego, NE and DW Ohio, Charlotte, Raleigh and others.

By acquiring BFC’s distribution, GMC said in today’s press release it expects to finish 2006 with more than 20 million subscribers. It’s also acquiring the channel’s library of gospel music programming, while the remainder of BFC’s content will be repackaged as a Web-only broadband channel.

The transfer of BFC’s TV footprint and library to Gospel Music Channel was announced last week by BFC chairman Willie Gary, who spoke with the Palm Beach Post about the pending sale of the network. Terms of the deal—which Gary stated was a multi-million dollar deal and involved equity stakes going to Comcast and Time Warner Cable—were not announced.

A GMC spokesman today said Gary’s statements to the newspaper about operators taking equity in the deal were "erroneous" and did not reflect the final terms of the sale, which the companies aren’t disclosing. A BFC spokesperson did not return comment.

Gary also told the newspaper it made sense given today’s tough distribution environment to move the struggling BFC brand off linear TV and onto a broadband/digital berth.

"It’s the best strategy in these days and times," he told the Post about the costs of programming and distributing a 24/7 TV channel. AOL founder Steve Case followed a similar strategy when he acquired Wisdom TV, rebranded it to LIME and then morphed it from a linear TV channel into a Web-only brand.

"Gospel Music Channel embodies BFC’s values, but does so on a broader, multicultural scale," Gary stated today. "GMC presents the greatest opportunity for us to advance our goals of serving the family in the multi-cultural community. We strongly endorse these launches of GMC and encourage our community of black leadership, colleges and churches to support Gospel Music Channel and the cable companies that carry it."

Charles Humbard, GMC founder and president commented: "We are thrilled with the endorsement from BFC and the cable industry. With Gospel Music Channel in so many new markets, millions of new subscribers can now enjoy our inspirational family-friendly music entertainment."

GMC vice chairman Brad Siegel added, "Gospel Music Channel is honored to receive the support of Black Family Channel and proud to carry on the mission that BFC so ably accomplished. The two networks have shared the common goal of serving the family audience through programming that empowers, uplifts, and inspires, and we will continue to serve that family audience."

BFC president and CEO Rick Newberger commented in a separate press release on his channel’s pending evolution to a broadband-only brand, which he is overseeing in tandem with BFC programming head, actor and director Robert Townsend: "The cable network known for its family-friendly fare targeting African-Americans and urban communities will now be available to Black families worldwide without gatekeepers and barriers. Anyone who has access to a broadband connection at home, at school, or at work will be able to get Black Family Channel."

Gary, a high-flying litigator when he’s not dabbling in media, helped launch BFC in its earlier iteration as MBC, for Major Broadcasting Cable Network. The network infamously brought Michael Jackson (courtesy of brother Marlon, also an investor in the channel) to the NCTA‘s annual convention when it was held in Chicago in 2003.

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