Broadcasting the Gospel

Gospel cable network hopes to fill void in African American programming

The Major Broadcasting Corp. (MBC) Gospel Network is poised to breathe in some rarified air. The concern recently joined a club once occupied solely by Black Entertainment Television-that of a minority-owned and operated nationally broadcast 24-hour cable channel.

So who’s behind such an ambitious venture, you might ask? Well, the names behind the scenes should ring a bell. The core of the Atlanta-based management group is comprised of heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, former all-star baseball player Cecil Fielder, former Jackson Five member Marlon Jackson and noted Florida attorney and philanthropist Willie Gary. With MBC CEO Alvin D. James at the helm, the group launched its service on satellite last November to some 3 million U.S. households. And if MBC’s not available on your television set yet, the group hopes to debut its programming in your living room in the near future. James and Jackson handle the day-to-day operations while Gary serves as chairman of the board and provides the overall direction for the concern.

“Our objective is to produce original programming that will compete with and rival [the programming on] all other existing cable networks,” says James. “The timing is superb, and the response has been phenomenal. We’re in the right place at the right time with the right product. And people are buying it. Each partner felt this was a great opportunity to have a tremendous impact and to utilize the media to reclaim our youth.”

Aside from bringing their high-profile names to the table, each partner is involved with attracting advertisers or soliciting investors to support the cause. And their respective business relationships alone have helped catapult MBC from theory to reality. “We believe MBC will exceed viewer and cable operator expectations with its family-oriented formats and morally sound broadcasts,” adds James.

Currently MBC is available only to those with access to satellite Telstar 5, Transponder 17. But this past June, MBC inked two lucrative affiliation agreements with Comcast Cablevision and Peak Cablevision, which are expected to eventually bring 6 million to 10 million additional subscribers. The group is negotiating with Time Warner, Cox and AT&T, which would make MBC available to 25 million basic cable subscribers by the millennium. “We are the only advertiser-supported cable network that can fill the immense void left by the major broadcast networks,” says James.

James praises BET CEO Bob Johnson for breaking ground in the cable industry, but he doesn’t necessarily see BET as competition for his start-up company. “BET is a network that has found a successful niche and has become a pioneer in the business. But our audience is different from BET’s, so we don’t see them as opposition,” says James. “There’s certainly room for two networks that target the 35 million African Americans in the U.S.”

MBC’s January 2000 slate will include Spiritual Impact, the youth-oriented video show Rhythm & Power, Health for the Nation, Video Praise, hosted by Vickie Winans, and the home-shopping program MBC Marketcenter. Future content is expected to include inspirational movies, children’s shows, gospel concerts and the MBC

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