Cox Inks Africa-Centric Net

Jul 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

A new cable network about Africa has secured a corporate carriage agreement with Cox Communications.

The network, The Africa Channel, is backed by former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and National Basketball Association players Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliff. It will be ad-supported and will feature English-language programming produced in Africa, ranging from news and information to reality show and soap operas.

The channel will “help people understand what’s really going on on that continent from a political standpoint, from an economic standpoint, from a travel and tourism standpoint,” said James Makawa, CEO of The Africa Channel.

Mr. Makawa, a former NBC News correspondent in the United States who was born in Africa, returned to Africa 10 years ago and opened a barter syndication company. He also co-founded the African Broadcast Network. During that period he did business with Jacob Arback, now president of The Africa Channel, and Richard Hammer, now executive VP of communications. About four years ago in Los Angeles they hatched the idea of an African programming network in the United States.

The partners raised less than $10 million from about 20 investors, a majority of whom are Africans or have a special interest in Africa, Mr. Arback said. A second round of financing will take place at year-end to fund the network as it adds distribution.

Mr. Arback said he expects the network to appeal to a broad-based audience consisting of “anyone who is interested in the subject matter of Africa. It cuts across demographic and racial lines.”

Mr. Young is a director of Cox Communications, but Mr. Makawa downplayed Mr. Young’s influence in obtaining carriage for the channel. “Does it always help that you have people in the mix who are on your side? Absolutely,” Mr. Makawa said. But he said that Mr. Young merely introduced the channel to Cox and sent similar letters to Time Warner, Comcast, Charter, EchoStar and other potential distributors.

Mr. Arback said the channel will launch on Cox’s Baton Rouge, La., and New Orleans systems Sept. 1, then expand into other Cox markets. He said the network expects to have 2 million to 3 million homes by the end of the year.

The network is not paying Cox for carriage, but its business model calls for a reasonable sub fee schedule that includes waivers some years. The fee schedule can be low because programming costs are relatively low, since the programs already have had their local runs. The network plans to produce interstitial material that will air at the top and bottom of every half-hour. The material will be produced by Weller/Grossman Productions, another investor in The Africa Channel.