Bob Johnson eyes Urban Television

Producer partnerships to fuel ION's minority-skewing channel

BET founder Bob Johnson is taking another crack at launching a channel for urban audiences, but the business model he has in mind is based more on the Internet than television.

Johnson is calling on ideas for programs his new venture would not license or acquire, but form partnerships with producers who could buy blocks of airtime and sell their own advertising for a revenue split.

"The intent is to do something really innovative and not duplicate what I did at BET or even the traditional broadcast model," Johnson said. "I don't know if it will work, but I'm willing to give it a try."

Johnson has teamed with ION Media Networks in hope of launching Urban Television, a network that could reside on ION's 42 channels. The joint venture has filed an application with the FCC for approval of a share-time license to make the network a reality.

Johnson envisions Urban Television serving black, Hispanic, gay and other minority communities with a range of public-interest programming including some focused on health care, a topic of personal interest.

Johnson also is eyeing turning the venture into a cross-platform play that would potentially stretch to the Internet, where his firm RLJ Cos. is developing a Web site, dubbed Point of U, that would have a similar programming focus.

"I like the idea of companion-ing a broadcast concept with an interactive platform," he said. "Why do we always have to go back to that old model that says this is how television has to be?"