For the new year, a new cable channel dedicated to young black women will hit the airwaves. And it promises to be more than just reruns, rehashed specials, depressing docuseries and R&B music videos viewers have seen elsewhere.
The channel, CLEO TV—a nod to the Egyptian queen of two centuries past mostly known in pop culture for her legendary love affairs—is calling itself “a new aspirational lifestyle and entertainment cable network targeting millennial and Gen X women of color.”
With a launch via Comcast Xfinity on Jan. 19, 2019, the channel will include a healthy soul-food cooking show, a home-improvement show hosted by a brother-and-sister duo and scripted a series about thirtysomething single black women.
“No other network is singularly focused on young Gen X and millennial women of color,” network chief Michelle Rice told The Root. “The programming that targets this demographic is extremely fragmented. We want to be a destination that will super-serve this audience on a 24/7 basis. It will be lifestyle and entertainment content through the lens of black culture.”
An offshoot of TV One—founded by broadcasting pioneer Cathy Hughes and part of the Silver Spring, Md.-based media conglomerate Urban One—CLEO TV will square off with BETher for eyeballs and advertising dollars.
Rice, a former BET staffer who has worked with TV One as a senior-level sales and distribution executive since 2004, said that BETher’s play for the female audience had nothing to do with her network’s new initiative.
“Women of color are not monolithic, and we need more content for this audience,” she underscored. “In this expansive television ecosystem, there is enough room for everyone.”
Rice may have a point. Black people have been traditionally known to make up a large percentage of television consumers. And lately, more strides have been made on the major primetime network side, thanks in large part to Shonda Rhimes’ Thursday night block on ABC and Lee Daniels’ Wednesday night lineup on Fox.
The cable landscape is growing too—with a growing number of dedicated channels geared towards black viewers, some with some major star power attached.
In 2011, Bounce TV, the Atlanta-based network with a goal to primarily target adults between the ages of 25 and 54, was founded by Martin Luther King III, Andrew Young, Rob Hardy and Stomp The Yard producer Will Packer.
AspireTV was launched in 2012 by Magic Johnson Enterprises with the stated goal of providing “positive, uplifting images of African Americans.”
In 2013, we saw the formation of Sean Diddy Combs’ Los Angeles-based music-oriented Revolt TV.
All three digital cable channels were a part of Comcast Corporation’s pledge to Congress specifying that it would carry minority-owned and operated networks in its bid to acquire NBC-Universal in 2010. Their agreement with the Justice Department to launch 10 new independently owned channels across its cable systems by 2019 came a result from pressure from U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who was very critical of the media giant’s lack of so-called minority programming.
Alongside CLEO TV, Comcast announced it will also distribute AFRO, which has been described as “a 24-hour polycultural black network that mainly broadcasts top-rated Nollywood and black movies, dramas, sitcoms, music, talk, and late-night comedy shows.”
Rice did admit to The Root that while it is a competitive time to launch a new network, she’s optimistic of CLEO TV’s response from distribution and advertising communities. She’s also very confident in CLEO TV’s initial programming lineup, which was bolstered by several focus groups.
“That informed some of our initial programming choices in the lifestyle space,” Rice said. “We will continue to expand and curate content for our lineup to include authentic and relatable content across a broad spectrum of interests which includes relationships, finances, docuseries and much more.”
Just Eats with Chef JJ will feature Harlem-based Chef JJ, who has become one of the culinary world’s most sought-after food stars, presenting delicious delights with celebrity friends and influencers. The 30-minute series recently wrapped filming 16 episodes in New York City with guests including Power’s Naturi Naughton, Love & Hip Hop star Yandy Smith, social media sports expert TJ Adeshola and former NBA star Stephen Jackson.
“This is not your typical cooking show,” Chef JJ told The Root. “Food is just the connector, and we are talking about everything and anything. You never know what food is going to bring up—how it will connect you, what your opinions are, but at the end of the day it’s a TV show for us, by us.”
JJ—known as Joseph Johnson—is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has worked New York City’s Tribeca Grill and Centro Vinoteca. He competed on the Food Network series Rocco’s Dinner Party and judged the competition show Chopped.
CLEO TV is a great fit for his debut, he said.
“I love being part of new and ground-breaking concepts—and [they’ve] given me a voice to express how I feel about food, they’re believing in me—and it means a lot to me to be able to align myself with the strongest women in the world through the lens of CLEO TV.”