The first 24-hour news channel dedicated to African-American issues launched with little fanfare on Monday after missing two previously-announced deadlines.
“We’re going to give the nation a look at the black community that has not been seen on any other network,” Gary Wordlaw, the vice president of news and programming for BNC, said in a phone interview with the Baltimore Sun last week. “Our mission is to illuminate and to tell the truth. We’re not partisan. We’re not political. We’re journalists. And we want to give good stories from the peoples’ perspective — we should be the peoples’ network.”
BNC, based in Florida, is not the first news operation focused on black issues — BET, owned by ViacomCBS, and TV One, owned by Urban One, have distributed news shows throughout their history — but it is the first time that cable and satellite distributors have had a channel dedicated to African American issues available to viewers.
Just how many of those pay TV services will distribute the channel remains to be seen. Currently, BNC is only available to Spectrum and Comcast Xfinity customers in a handful of markets, including Los Angeles and Atlanta, with additional launches on Roku and Dish Network-owned Sling TV in the coming months.
The company says it is hoping to reach 100 million households by the end of its launch period.
Over the coming weeks, BNC will roll out programs that resemble typical morning and evening newscasts along with topical programming like medical shows that focus on black experiences.
“I think there needs to be a more comprehensive story told about the African American community, and we’ll have a venue to do that,” BNC co-founder J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman, said in an NPR interview on Monday.
BNC is entering when competition from pay TV and digital upstarts is at its hottest. CBS, NBC and ABC have increased their efforts to launch digital-only streaming news channels over the past few years, with each pouring millions of dollars into broadcast facilities, talent and original programming to fill their schedules.
At the same time, similar upstarts have struggled to gain much traction by targeting pay TV systems. Current TV never reached critical mass, and the channel’s relaunch into a localized version of Al Jazeera collapsed after just a few years. Newsmax and One America News Network, both conservative-leaning challengers to the more-mainstream Fox News Channel, had trouble inking traditional deals for carriage on cable and satellite; both have found loyal audiences through streaming media, though a few smaller pay TV platforms carry one or both channels.
Things could be slightly easier for BNC: Watts said there’s an appetite for his channel because African American audiences buy more subscription television and increasingly turn to broadcast and cable news for information.
“There’s some cultural things that’s going on, some political things that’s going on that’s giving news sort of a resurgence, if you will, when you look at the advertising dollars and look at the money that’s being spent trying to speak to certain people on those news shows,” Watts said. “It’s higher today than it was 10 years ago. I think that we are coming into the marketplace at an ideal time.”