do was to maximize these assets for the benefit of the community.”
Choosing The Heritage Networks worked to the foundation’s benefit since Mercado-Valdes didn’t need ownership of Showtime at the Apollo to make a profit. The largest of the black-owned syndication companies, The Heritage Networks generates $25 million in revenues from The Steve Harvey Show, $11 million from Livin’ Large, $7 million from Weekend Vibe, and $6 million from The Cosby Show. Heritage Networks movies generate about $9 million, and Showtime at the Apollo is expected to add another $11 million to the company’s revenues. Since Mercado-Valdes has access to 212 television markets from New York to Alaska, he views access to the No. 1 syndicated show for black audiences “the crown jewel” in his future plans. “This could give us the ability to control a two-hour weekend block of time in over 100 of the nation’s top urban, African American TV markets,” he says. “That’s tantamount to becoming a weekend broadcast network.”
Mercado-Valdes’ idea of a mini-network for African Americans mirrors the strategy adopted by Fox and UPN networks. Now, The Heritage Networks is offering Showtime at the Apollo and Weekend Vibe in a two-hour package airing after Saturday Night Live in the top 75 television markets in the country. “It’s very valuable to have a two-hour block on urban stations because it has never happened before,” says Mercado-Valdes. “It enables us to leverage advertisers much differently than if each show had a different time slot and was scattered throughout the day.”
Although Mercado-Valdes was in position to win the one-year license agreement from the start, the deal may not have happened had he not lured top-notch producer Suzanne de Passe, chairman and CEO of de Passe Entertainment, as executive producer for the show.
“To his credit, Mercado-Valdes went to the marketplace and found a producer at the highest level,” says Johnson. “He stepped to the table with an economic return more than 100% of what we had been getting. He also came to us with a producer partner who has real credibility, a track record of success, and real roots in the Harlem community.” Johnson says that for the purposes of the one-year deal, Mercado-Valdes had met the foundation’s three priorities.
REMATCH: MORE NEGOTIATIONS
De Passe, an Emmy Award-winning producer, is crucial to Mercado-Valdes’ plan to build his mini-network. “[She] is the day-to-day creative force behind the show,” says Mercado-Valdes. “With de Passe, we’ll have content no other black TV syndicator has ever had before. And with Heritage Networks handling distribution, marketing, and with our strong relationship with advertisers, we will set ourselves apart from competitors.”
Creating a mini-network would be a major accomplishment for Mercado-Valdes, who now estimates that his Heritage Networks programming reaches 95% of all African American homes in the U.S. His goal is to become the largest broadcast distributor of niche-market television programming in the country, a goal that may suffer a major setback if he loses the rights to produce Showtime at the Apollo after the current one-year deal.