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African-American viewers recently had a chance to relive soul singer Al Green's 1972 performance from the culture-defining dance and music show Soul Train, part of a hastily developed, seven-hour marathon of the series in tribute to the show's producer and creator Don Cornelius. He had died three days earlier.
In years past, viewers could only turn on the cable box, to BET or sister network Centric, to see Green sing such classic hits as "Let's Stay Together," which was famously crooned by President Obama last month at a Harlem fund-raising event.
But the aforementioned Soul Train marathon could be seen with a pair of digital rabbit ears courtesy of Bounce TV, one of several African-American-targeted networks launching in the broadcast-television space.
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With a plethora of bandwidth due to the expansion of broadcast diginets, network executives say over-the-air multicasting is providing greater opportunities for niche services to gain distribution and reach their target audiences.
National broadcast networks like Bounce TV and Kin TV, as well as regional broadcast services such as The Soul of the South, are betting that gaining carriage on digital channels in markets with large African-American populations will prove to be a better business proposition than waiting for distribution on channel-locked cable lineups.
And if those broadcast channels were must-carry channels, then such start-up networks could effectively compete with cable networks like BET or TV One for African-American eyeballs and advertising dollars. The FCC so far has declined to extend must-carry beyond a station's primary digital channel.
"If they can get [must-carry] distribution on cable systems, it's a pretty brilliant stroke of strategy to target that bandwidth on the digital spectrum and program that way," Bob Reid, president of the Africa Channel, an …