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HBCU Network To Launch In August 2011

Starting next summer, Historically Black Colleges and Universities will have their own television network, anchored by college sports programming, courtesy of ESPN.

ESPN will enter into a programming agreement with the HBCU Network as they own the rights to games from the the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

“ESPN’s involvement is strictly on the programming side,” said Curtis Symonds, CEO of the HBCU Network. “All they have really done is basically allowed us to get the second window of their HBCU rights. They have exclusive rights with the MEAC and the SWAC. What they will do is take the first swoop of games and whatever’s left, we can take the second swoop.”

The Atalanta-based HBCU Network is the brainchild of Symonds, a former head of affiliate sales and marketing at BET, and will be owned and operated by C3 Media, LLC. The schools will have an collective 20 percent equity in the network.

“We are going to anchor it with black college sports,” Symonds told SportsNewser.com. “Sports will be 28 percent of the programming starting off. The idea is to really get more branding of that programming.”

Along with live athletics, the sports programming block will feature a nightly wrap-up show. The rest of the programming on the network will feature lifestyle content and “edutainment” programming, a combination of education and entertainment programming.

“We hope to launch in 10 million homes and I think over the next five years, we hope to be in close to 50 million homes,” Symonds said. The network is scheduled to launch in August 2011 with a possible “soft launch” during Black History Month next February.

Their primary target will be the 20 states where HBCU’s are located and they are proposing a 7.5-cent per subscriber monthly carriage fee, much lower than rates for other college sports networks. According to SNL Kagan, Big 10 Network has a carriage fee of $0.36, Fox College Sports has a fee of $0.34, CBS College Sports Network has a fee of $0.19 and ESPNU has a monthly fee of $0.16.

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