There’s a new player coming to the 24-hour cable news business.
After more than a decade of planning, Black News Channel (BNC) — a multi-platform news and information channel featuring programming by African Americans for African Americans — is set to launch on Nov. 15.
J.C. Watts Jr., a former athlete and Republican Congressman from Oklahoma, is chairman and co-founder of the network. Other key executives include CEO and Co-Founder Robert Brillante, Chief Operating Officer Jim Zerwekh, VP and General Manager Frank Watson and VP of News and Programming Gary Wordlaw.
After previously managing local television stations and newsrooms in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Tallahassee, Florida, Wordlaw is in the process of mapping out a daily news and programming plan for BNC.
“We’re going to be producing between eight and 14 hours of creative content a day. Of that, eight hours is going to be dedicated to actual news coverage,” Wordlaw told Urban Hollywood 411.
The network expects the audience to be largely female, and has a target demo in mind.
“We’re looking for 25 to 54-year-old African Americans,” Wordlaw explained. “If history proves to be correct, women pretty much rule the roost. But because of the unique, culturally-specific content that we’re producing, we think that we’re going to get a lot of male eyeballs as well.”
The news operation will be headquartered in Tallahassee, with bureaus in several key cities, including New York and Los Angeles.
“We’re building out a 25,000 square-foot facility here [in Tallahassee] that will house our primary studios,” Wordlaw said. “But we’re going to have news bureaus in New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston, Jacksonville, Orlando, Detroit, Atlanta and Los Angeles.”
NPR TV critic Eric Deggans applauded BNC’s efforts to create a news product targeting African Americans, but he noted it’s been done before with limited success.
“Even recognized figures like Roland Martin, who a lot of black folks know and who have had a lot of high-profile positions in media, have had a tough time creating news shows that are aimed at a black audience that get a significant viewership,” Deggans said.
One of the main problems, he noted, is that broadcast news is costly to produce.
“Doing a news show that competes with the kind of news that we’re used to seeing on CNN, CBS, or NBC, is very expensive and so the efforts to create programs like that for people of color are almost always hampered by a lack of resources,” he explained.
Still, BNC has been able to attract well-known talent, including conservative author and media personality Larry Elder and ABC News Chief National Correspondent Byron Pitts, who will join the channel as a contributor while continuing his role at ABC. The operation has also signed veteran Washington anchor-reporter Del Walters.
“Byron Pitts is already committed to working with us. He is one of our New York people,” Wordlaw said. “Del Walters I’ve hired as our investigative reporter and D.C. correspondent. I’m interviewing quite a few people whose names you’ll recognize.”
They are among several dozen employees BNC is in the process of hiring.
“By the time that we launch, I think our total staff will be north of 100,” Wordlaw said.
Among those staffers will be reporters, producers and a production team tasked with putting together a signature show titled Being a Woman.
“It will be a daily show that talks about all things being a woman,” stated Wordlaw.
BNC is cleared on Charter’s Spectrum cable and executives are in the process of working out deals with Comcast and Dish Network, Wordlaw noted. The channel’s backers expect it to be available in 33 million to 45 million households at launch.
The channel plans to tap into talent at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and will open college bureaus at two dozen HBCUs, allowing students to contribute to the network’s programming.
However, Deggans cautioned that students “who are just learning the craft” will need extra training and close supervision. He added that BNC will have to bring something “unique” to the table to achieve long-term success.
“The problem is figuring out a way to make the case that what you’re presenting is a unique and distinct product from what everybody else is doing,” he said, adding, “and that it’s unique and distinct enough that it can survive in a really crowded media marketplace.”
Additional information on BNC and its current job openings can be found here.