Black News Channel Is Shutting Down Operations

By A.J. Katz 

Black News Channel, a 24/7 national news network committed to covering Black and Brown communities, is shutting down operations as soon as today, according to the LA TimesSteve Battaglio, who cites two people familiar with the matter.

The Tallahassee-based cable news network reportedly failed to meet payroll today, after telling staffers yesterday that their paychecks would be delayed. BNC reportedly has 230 staffers and all of them will be out of work, likely by the end of the day.

Black News Channel was co-founded in 2019 by former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who serves as its chairman and Florida media executive Bob Brilliante, the channel’s CEO who left only a couple of months after launch. ┬áThe channel debuted after Jacksonville Jaguars owner and billionaire businessman Shad Khan made a $50-million investment three years ago, making him the majority shareholder.

According to Battaglio, Khan decided he no longer wanted to invest further and BNC was being shopped to a number of media companies, including Byron Allen‘s Entertainment Studios. However, Allen (who owns The Weather Channel) and others declined.

Black News Channel reached more than 52 million U.S. homes via linear agreements with Cox, Comcast / Xfinity (Ch. 1116), DirecTV (Ch.342), Charter / Spectrum, Dish (Ch.360) and Verizon Fios (Ch. 612). BNC also featured a streaming product, BNC Go, which hosts original content separate from the linear channel offerings. However, neither the linear nor streaming platforms were able to earn a significant audience. In fact, according to Battaglio, the average audience for BNC was fewer than 10,000 viewers, according to Nielsen data.

In addition to ratings problems, there were other issues from the start. The original launch date for BNC was Nov. 15, 2019. The premiere date was delayed to Jan. 6, 2020, and again to Feb. 10, 2020. Additionally, Watts reportedly made clear that the channel would have a conservative slant, a move which most certainly dissuaded a large segment of the potential audience from tuning in. He promoted a potential show hosted by conservative talk radio host and former California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder.

There was also a class-action lawsuit filed by former and current female staffers against BNC management back in January. The complaint alleged that the women were being paid less than their male colleagues and that bosses complained that they were “insufficiently feminine.”

Princell Hair, a veteran news executive who was previously evp and gm of CNN U.S. and vp of news and talent for the NBC Sports Group, was brought in to replace Brilliante as president and CEO of Black News Channel. He re-made the channel to more closely resemble mainstream cable news outlets, a combination of breaking news coverage during the day with opinion shows at night.

Additionally, longtime Los Angeles and New York local news executive Vickie Burns joined BNC last year as svp of content, overseeing all editorial operations.

BNC signed several well-known news personalities to lead programming, including New York Times opinion writer Charles Blow, commentator Marc Lamont Hill (who anchored BNC’s evening newscast) and former Atlanta news anchor Sharon Reed, to name a few.

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