Black Network Shifts Gears

Struggling channel to focus on broadband TV

Following the shutdown of the Black Family Channel’s television platform in May, the network’s broadband launch is expected to boost the channel’s bottom line and provide new opportunities for young black actors and filmmakers.

“It’s a new frontier,” says actor and producer Robert Townsend, BFC president and CEO of production. The new broadband programming format will add interactive components to the channel’s existing shows, Townsend says.

Rick Newberger, president and CEO of the BFC, says, “To us, broadband was a huge step forward. In broadband, we can have as many channels simultaneously as we want with less overhead. I think that’ll be liberating.” The broadband launch was scheduled to take place late summer or early fall.

The television platform struggled to increase its distribution beyond 16 million subscribers on cable and, in May, merged with the Gospel Music Channel. “[The merger] was a great business decision,” says Willie Gary, president of the BFC board and also a member of the Gospel Music Channel board. The Gospel Music Channel remains on-air, and viewers will see teasers for the BFC’s broadband shows.

Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a Chicago firm that monitors African American marketing in media, says the decision was the right move. “The Black Family Channel occupies some really valuable electronic real estate, and as a business they should be looking at what will give them the best return for the investment they’ve made thus far in the network,” Smikle says. “The deal with the Gospel Music Channel seems like an ideal fit as an alternative to running a full-time channel that has to compete with the giants of the industry.”

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