The Soul of the South Network

Communities of color are being bombarded with television networks attempting to seize on our viewing power. New and established networks want our attention after we propelled “Scandal” into a ratings bonanza. I’m not complaining.

The Soul of the South Network is the latest television venture aimed at African-American viewers. The new network will launch in 30 markets May 27 after raising $10 million from private investors and the state of Arkansas.

The network is based in Little Rock, Ark. and created more than 150 jobs for the city’s economy. The employment opportunities led the Arkansas Development Finance Authority to contribute more than $1 million in equity financing and the Arkansas Capital Corporation to loan the network’s executives a $1.5 million mortgage. Other backers include the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; Richard Mays, a former Arkansas Supreme Court justice and civil rights attorney; and attorney Christopher Rankin Clark.

“This is exciting news for Arkansas, as both an economic-development project and as a cultural enterprise,” says Arkansas Gov. Michael Beebe told The Hollywood Reporter. “We are proud to be the point of origin for the signal of Southern culture and diversity that Soul of the South will send into millions of American homes.”

The Soul of the South Network will air programming highlighting southern traditions and the overall culture below the Mason-Dixon line.

The network will not air original programming during its launch. Instead, the Soul of the South will air news and news-related programs. Doug McHenry, established film producer, is the network’s president of entertainment. He and other executives are negotiating with Hollywood studios about licensing programming, including syndicated shows, documentaries and movies.

McHenry hopes original programming as well as syndicated shows and movies will be airing on the Soul of the South by 2014.

The Soul of the South will be distributed by over-the-air stations as well as digital channels, but it will eventually expand through cable. The Federal Communications Commission mandates all local networks with unique news programming must be “carried” on nearby cable systems, so network executives hope to use this loophole to its advantage.

The network will reach 50 to 60 markets with high African-American populations by the end of the summer. This will lead to an available viewership of 30 to 40 million households.

“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,” McHenry said to the Hollywood Reporter.

However, we all know it’s difficult to keep a network afloat. Ask Oprah Winfrey. The powerhouse media mogul struggled to generate adequate ratings for the Oprah Winfrey Network before finally finding her groove in 2013.

McHenry wants to circumvent these woes by persuading national advertisers to invest in the network’s potential. “We believe there is a difference in the lifestyles of an African-American in the South just as people are different in New York City,” he said to The Hollywood Reporter. “We want to celebrate and explore what is unique about the Southern lifestyle.”

McHenry hopes African-American stars from the South can assist with building an audience by appearing in promotional spots, but that alone might not be enough.

He also insists the numbers are on his side. McHenry told the Hollywood Reporter the “African-American audience is underserved” and we deserve specialized content. We represent about 43 million TV homes in the United States according to the last census and don’t have many networks aligned with our interests.

The Soul of the South aims to change that. The network will have news bureaus in Tallahassee, Montgomery, Jackson, Atlanta, Raleigh, Chicago and Philadelphia. Each of these bureaus will create and share news about their specific regions as well as the overall South. The Soul of the South plans to air six hours of news per day.

Tom Jacobs and Matthew L. Mixon, two news veterans and leaders of the news operations, are in the process of recruiting a talented staff.

“We will create a unique distribution platform by combining full-power television stations, Class A low-power TV stations and digital sub channels with cable,” said Larry Morton, the Soul of the South’s CEO.

The Soul of the South launches Memorial Day weekend.

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