Comcast is making good on its promise to beef up minority involvement in its cable division, though it's doing so with digital networks instead of terrestrial cable channels. It's not quite what it sounded like when, as a condition of its purchase of a majority stake in NBCUniversal (then 80 percent held by GE), Comcast agreed to create cable networks with minority leadership. Still, a channel is a channel.
The company is launching four new digital nets with headliners including Magic Johnson, Sean "Diddy" Combs and film director Robert Rodriguez, starting as soon as April. The four networks will be available on Comcast's digital basic tier, but they won't be taking the place of any existing cable channels. Instead, they'll be digital subnets, a growing sector of the cable market that is mostly occupied by public access-style programming at this point.
Johnson, whose title will be chairman, will lead Aspire, a new network with an African-American focus and inspirational programming. In a statement issued Tuesday, David Jensen, Comcast's vp of content acquistion, said that the Atlanta-based network (a partnership with GMC TV) will involve "an enduring focus on delivering quality programming that positively resonates with ethnically diverse communities."
Combs' network, Revolt, will also have an African-American focus when it debuts next year but will be more of a music and news network. Revolt will be heavily engaged with social media and already has aspirations beyond Comcast's subscriber base. In a release issued by the new network this morning, Combs said that his hope was "that this new network will spark a revolution in entertainment and encourage other media and communications companies to bring Revolt to their audiences.”
Rodriguez's network, El Rey, will focus on the Latino audience, with content created by the net's new production company, Tres Pistoleros, which will develop programming for the channel. Rodriguez's background as a director of films including Sin City and Planet Terror is mirrored in his vision for the channel: "The majority of the players today are doing a fantastic job serving the first generation [of Latinos in America]," Rodriguez told Deadline, "and what we want to do is serve their offspring.” The start date for El Rey is some time in 2014.
The fourth network will be BabyFirstAmericas and will focus on early childhood and will be run by Constantino "Said" Schwarz.