*The Soul of the South Network, targeting African-American viewers, announced Thursday it will launch in 30 markets on May 27 after closing an initial round of funding for $10 million raised from the state of Arkansas and private investors, according to The Hollywood Reporter. (Scroll down to watch a promo for the channel.)
The new network will be distributed initially by over-the-air stations and on digital channels on the broadcast spectrum but also plans to air on cable and expects its stations to qualify under FCC must-carry rules (which mandate nearby cable systems must carry it) because it is local and offers unique news programming.
“Our distribution footprint covers at least 70 percent of all African-American households in the south and in Chicago and Philadelphia, which we call sister regions,” says Doug McHenry, the Hollywood-based producer of films including “New Jack City” and “House Party” and TV shows including “Malcolm & Eddie,” who is the new network’s president of entertainment.
By the end of this summer, Soul of the South expects to be in 50-60 markets with a high concentration of African-Americans, reaching 30-40 million households.
At launch over Memorial Day weekend, the network will not have any original programming outside of an active news presence in its local markets. McHenry says execs are in active negotiations with three Hollywood studios about licensing appropriate programming, including past situation comedies, dramas, documentaries and movies.
By some time in 2014, McHenry anticipates the network will offer at least one night of completely original programming in primetime — comedies, dramas, documentaries, specials and movies — which he says will be on a par in terms of budgets and ambition with what you might see on BET or TV One.
McHenry will operate out of his current offices in North Hollywood, Calif., and is continuing to produce and direct his own movie and TV projects. He recently directed a Lifetime movie, “Borrowed Moments,” and a sequel, “House Party: Tonight’s the Night” for Warner Bros. and the Fuse Network. He is also developing features.
McHenry is reaching out to African-American stars from the South to appear on the network in promotional spots and as part of interstitial content between shows (and to set up programming) but has not made any deals yet.
McHenry makes the case that, according to the last census, African-Americans represent about 43 million U.S. TV homes but are served by only a handful of specialized networks including Viacom’s BET and TV One, as well as newer entrants such as the Aspire and Bounce networks.
By contrast, says McHenry, there are about 47 million Hispanic households in the U.S., which have the choice of about 50 different TV networks. “I feel that (the African-American) audience is underserved,” says McHenry.
The lead investors in the Soul of the South Network include Richard Mays, a former Arkansas Supreme Court justice and civil rights attorney, who is chairman of the board; Edwin V. Avent, who is CEO; attorney Christopher Rankin Clark, who is executive vp business and legal affairs; and Matthew J. Gruber from Mississippi, who is vice chairman of the board.