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Comcast Sets TV One’s Cleo TV, Afro as Latest Independent Channel Launches

Comcast has selected TV One’s Cleo TV and Afrotainment’s Afro as the latest independent channels to receive broad distribution on its cable systems to fulfill commitments made as part of Comcast’s 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal.

Cleo TV will target young women of color. Afro is described as a “polycultural black network” featuring movies, acquired and original TV series and other programming representing black cultures in the U.S. and beyond. Both channels will debut on Comcast’s platform in January.

“The offerings from both Afro and Cleo TV serve as an excellent complement to the growing catalog of programming choices we offer about global black communities,” said Keesha Boyd, executive director, of multicultural products at Comcast Cable. “We remain committed to delivering a wide array of programming by partnering with independent networks, such as the two we’re announcing today, to better serve our increasingly diverse customer base.”

When it first acquired a majority stake in NBCU, Comcast set an agreement with the Justice Department to launch 10 new independently owned channels across its cable systems by 2019. Eight of those channels were to be owned or operated primarily by persons of color. To date, the cable giant has launched six such channels, including Sean Combs’ Revolt and Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network. Cleo TV and Afro will bring the tally to eight.

Afrotainment is a New York-based company that operates a clutch of linear and on-demand channels. TV One unveiled plans for the Cleo TV spinoff channel in August. The Comcast commitment is a huge boost to both channels, although both companies will inevitably face a tough road ahead in expanding linear distribution at a time when MVPDs are looking to shrink, not expand, the size of programming packages offered to customers. Comcast said both channels would be offered on the digital basic tier in selected markets, making them available to “millions” of subscribers at launch.

“Afro celebrates the richness and diversity of the black culture with original and exclusive content,” said Yves Bollanga, Afrotainment CEO and founder. It is important to recognize that the African-American community is not a homogeneous group. … They are Afro Caribbeans, Africans or Afro Hispanos who are young, educated, greatly underserved and represent substantial long-term revenue growth opportunities. We are excited to showcase all shades of the black culture to millions of Xfinity viewers both live and on demand.”

For TV One, the spinoff channel focused on young women is a natural extension of the original programming efforts it has ramped up during the past few years. TV One general manager Michelle Rice led the charge to get Cleo TV off the ground. Rice said TV One’s research shows a void in the market for a channel that is a central destination for millennial women of color.

“This is such a remarkable time for women of color in the area of finance, entertainment, politics — this young voice is so important and so engaged in the culture,” Rice told Variety. “We’re excited to do for this audience what TV One does — entertain and inspire African-Americans.”

Rice said a multiplatform approach to Cleo TV will be crucial as its target audience has been quick to embrace streaming and on-demand options for linear TV. But TV One’s focus group research in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. found that millennial women are still watching plenty of linear TV programming but in a checkerboard approach for specific shows across multiple networks such as VH1, Bravo, E! and OWN. Cleo TV will offer a mix of entertainment and lifestyle programming with an emphasis on food, travel, finance and business and pop culture.

“When you look at where this audience is in TV, you see they’re bouncing around all over the place,” Rice said. “There are shows that target them but no one is fully engaged curated content on a 24/7 basis on the things that they are interested in.”

For now, the streaming distribution will be on an authenticated basis but TV One retains the right to offer Cleo TV as paid app down the road. Rice will head the Cleo TV effort out of TV One’s home base in Silver Springs, Md. Cleo TV will bow Jan. 19, some 15 years to the day since the premiere of TV One as a general entertainment and news channel.

Cleo TV will share some programming with TV One, notably some of the original movie productions. Cleo TV has also acquired several series produced for online platforms such as Issa Rae’s YouTube channel. And Cleo TV will invest in its own original short-form online content as well.

“This crowd is online a lot,” said Robyn Green Arrington, who heads programming for Cleo TV. “We’ll have a lot of programming that is packaged for bite-size viewing. It’s a way for viewers to have a more intimate and organic experience with Cleo.”

Rice acknowledges that a linear channel launch is an uphill climb at present, given the gyrations in the pay TV marketplace. But she feels the opportunity is still great for a targeted channel in a fast-growing demographic that is becoming more important as an economic and political force by the day.

“Linear TV is by no means dead. Cable is by no means dead,” she said. “These women still watch linear TV, they just watch it differently.”

Here is a list of programming coming to Cleo TV and a sizzle reel for Afro:

CLEO TV ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING

“Living by Design with Jake and Jazz,” a series hosted by brother/sister duo Jake and Jazz Smollett that pairs deserving young women with a team of professional designers to turn design dreams into reality and concludes with a special dinner to celebrate the new space.

“New Soul Kitchen” is the ultimate cooking mash-up show featuring culinary superstars Chef Jernard Wells and vegan chef Porsche Thomas delivering soul food recipes with a healthy twist.

“Just Eats with Chef JJ,” features Harlem based Chef JJ, one of the culinary world’s most sought after stars, as he brings his delicious delights to CLEO TV with celebrity friends and influencers.

Untitled Travel and Culture Show, features internationally recognized style influencer Tai Beauchamp gives viewers a unique travel experience to discover world class destinations.

ACQUIRED CLEO TV WEB SERIES

“Giants” is a coming of adulthood drama series originally streamed on “Insecure” creator Issa Rae’s YouTube channel and created by actor, writer and director James Bland. It follows three black millennials. each battling their own inner giants as they approach the age of 30.

“Tough Love” centers on the dating encounters and struggles of six millennials living in New York City.

“Everything I Did Wrong in My 20s” tracks the journey of 35-year-old Stephanie in search of happiness and determined to learn from the mistakes of her past.

“The Unwritten Rules” is a hilarious series based on the book “40 Hours and an Unwritten Rule” that chronicles young opinionated Racey as she arrives at her new job only to discover she is the only Black employee.

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