Robert Rodriguez joins Magic Johnson, Sean Combs in Comcast TV group
To fulfill its commitment to increase diversity in the cable landscape, Comcast Corp. is launching four independent channels targeting minorities in the next two years, including one owned by former Lakers star Magic Johnson and another owned by former rapper and entrepreneur Sean "Diddy" Combs.
The Philadelphia-based cable giant said Tuesday it also would launch two English-language channels owned by Latinos. One will be owned by film director Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids," "El Mariachi") and the other by Spanish-language television veteran Constantino “Said” Schwarz.
El Rey channel will be a joint venture between Rodriguez and FactoryMade Ventures executives John Fogelman, a former top William Morris Endeavor talent agent, and Cristina Patwa. The channel, which is slated to launch in early 2014, is expected to feature Latino celebrities and producers.
"This is the right time to create something new that has cultural significance and can reach the U.S. Latino audience that is really booming," Rodriguez said in an interview.
The group envisions the channel as "an action-packed, general entertainment network in English for Latino and general audiences" with a mix of reality, scripted and animated series, movies, music, comedy and sports.
Young, U.S. born Latinos "are an under-served market, and Comcast really responded to our pitch," Rodriguez said. "They want to make this work."
Fogelman said his team started pitching Rodriguez on the project about a year ago when Comcast first announced that it would back start-up channels. "We knew if we could get Robert on board we would finally have that authentic voice. There is a groovy factor to him, you can see it in his films and the talent whom he gets to work with him."
Comcast announced three other channels.
Aspire, the Magic Johnson channel, is expected to launch this summer. The Atlanta-based network will be managed by the NBA Hall of Famer in partnership with GMC TV. Johnson said in an interview that he wants Aspire to be filled with entertaining and positive programming for African Americans families. Aspire's lineup will include movies, documentaries, short films, music, comedy, visual and performing arts, and faith and inspirational programs.
Combs' channel, which is expected to launch in 2013, will be called Revolt. Combs said in a statement the channel would be built "from the ground up in this new era of social media" and feature music videos, live performances, music news and interviews. It is expected to incorporate social media interaction for music artists and fans. Former MTV executive Andy Schuon is partnering with Combs on the venture.
The fourth channel -- BabyFirst Americas -- is expected to launch in April. Proposed by TV veteran Schwarz, the channel is expected to emphasize the importance of early child development, including verbal, math and motor skills. It will be geared for infants and very young children and their parents.
Comcast promised the federal government that it would help launch 10 independent cable channels as part of its effort to win approval of its acquisition last year of NBCUniversal. Regulators were worried that the consolidation of two enormous media companies would make it even more difficult for small independent channels to compete.
Comcast said it made its selections after sifting through more than 100 proposals.
Of the 10 networks, four will be majority African American owned, two will be majority American Latino owned, two will be operated by American Latino programmers, and two will provide additional independent programming. Comcast said it would carry the channels on its cable systems as part of its digital basic tier of service.
-- Meg James
Photo: Director Robert Rodriguez arrives at the premiere of his movie "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D" in Los Angeles in July 2011. Credit: Gus Ruelas / Reuters