The first 24-hour sports, “edutainment” and lifestyle network dedicated to historically black colleges and universities is on the horizon.
C3 Media, LLC, the holding company that owns and operates the network, announced Tuesday at a news conference in New York that the HBCU Network will launch in 2011.
The network, based in Atlanta, is designed to fill a void in the cable industry, which has, for years, underserved the black community. The channel will be the official destination of the four major HBCU Conferences — the MEAC, SWAC, SIAC and CIAA – and will feature Division I and Division II black college sports events as the centerpiece of its programming.
The network will also offer a full complement of education and entertainment – “edutainment” – as well as lifestyle programming, some of which will be produced by HBCUs.
“Sports programming will be the anchor,” HBCU Network CEO Curtis Symonds says. “We’ll do about 28 percent sports. The majority of it will be live sports. We’ll also do lifestyle and entertainment-type programming. But what’s going to be the selling point is certainly black college sports.”
Symonds has an extensive background in the cable industry, largely in marketing and sales. He was executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for BET Holdings, Inc. from 1988 to 2001. Before that, he spent five years in ESPN’s Chicago office. He began as ESPN’s local advertising sales consultant and within a year was promoted to director of affiliate marketing for the mid-west. In addition, Symonds was COO of the Washington Mystics WNBA Basketball franchise.
Symonds is a product of an HBCU, having graduated from Central State University in Ohio.
He says that during his years at BET and ESPN, he saw an acute lack of exposure for HBCUs. At that time, BET was the only network that regularly broadcast black college football and basketball games.
The situation hasn’t improved a great deal. ESPN airs a limited number MEAC and SWAC football games live as part of its Thursday college football programming and a handful of tape-delayed contests late night on Saturday.
“When we (BET) took it off in 1995, ’96, there just was no vehicle,” he says. “ESPN … their heart is not in it. This channel, we’re putting our hearts into this. We believe it’s time we started educating youngsters about the 123 years of history in HBCUs.”
The network is negotiating a programming alliance ESPN, which has exclusive rights to black college conference games, and TV One for lifestyle programming. The HBCU Net will have its choice of games after ESPN selects the contests it will televise.
Symonds says the network will air three games lives each Saturday, one in the early time slot, one in the afternoon time slot and another at night. It also will televise ESPN’s Thursday night game, tape-delayed, later in the week, in addition to replaying its own telecasts.
Its sports programming will also include basketball and track and field.
Additionally, the new channel will provide a 20-percent equity position to the HBCUs by creating an investment fund that will be managed by a third party.