The nation's only 24-hour news network aimed at African American viewers is launching next month with the owner of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, Shad Khan, announcing he will be the majority investor.
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"I am a big believer in the fact that we have a number of communities, obviously especially the African American, who are underserved," Khan said in a conference call. "We know the mission, but I'm hoping that as time goes on this becomes a bridge to connect all the cultures, including obviously south Asian, which I am. This is a great worthwhile cause."
The Black News Channel, which has been in development for several years, will be available via cable and satellite in 33 million households. The network has agreements with Charter Communications, Comcast and DISH and will be carried in major African American markets such as New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago and Los Angeles.
J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman who was a star quarterback at the University of Oklahoma in the 1980s, will be chairman of the new network.
"When Shad and I were kids,” Watts said in the conference call alongside Khan, “they had three networks in the U.S. and today you have venues that you can speak to every demographic in the country in terms of news, but ... there's no venue for the African American community to have a dialogue to talk about cultural things ... or news in general. This platform will create that, and we're tickled that Shad has chosen to come alongside us and walk with us in this effort."
Khan declined to say how much he would invest initially, but he vowed that it would be enough to keep the network running for a long time.
"It's significant, and frankly it's open-ended," Khan said. “The investment continues to make sure that not only are the bricks and mortar, the equipment are really what it takes to make an excellent product, but also the people on the air and the programming costs. It's whatever it takes."
Khan is worth an estimated $8 billion and made his fortune in the auto equipment industry. In addition to the Jaguars, he owns Fulham Football Club of the English Football League and the new All Elite Wrestling.
“I think, all in all, when you look at it, with the distribution, content, target audience, it has encouraging prospects,” media consultant Brad Adgate said. “First of all, they’ve got distribution. They’re on three of the four biggest MVPD (Multichannel Video Programming Distributors), distributors with Charter and Comcast and Dish, so that will help. I think the ownership has deep pockets, so I think they should be well off financially.”
"I am a big believer in the fact that we have a number of communities, obviously especially the African American, who are underserved."
The network will be based in Tallahassee, Florida's state capital with bureaus around the country. The channel will be about African American culture and won't cater to political ideologies. Former Democratic Tallahassee Mayor John Marks is part of its management team.
"We're not looking to be Republican or Democrat, Watts said. “Obviously, there will be current affairs, but we are culturally specific to the African American community. MSNBC, Fox News, CNN -- they may have African American faces on their news shows, but they are not necessarily covering the community from a cultural perspective. We're not looking to be left or right."
Watts said topics that have gone underreported elsewhere will get network attention, including news about historically black colleges and universities and sickle cell disease, which impacts mostly African Americans (according to the Centers for Disease Control one out of every 365 African Americans).
“I think also that news is very popular right now,” says Adgate. “You know, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN have all benefited from the heightened news cycle that’s happened, say, over the past four years or so, that seems to be unabated. It’s a niche, I think that there’s not really a vertical cable news network targeting exclusively African-Americans; that’s an opportunity that’s probably underserved.”
Launching a news network heading into a presidential election year could give the services a big boost since ratings for news are generally higher in those years.
“There’s opportunity for political advertising going into the 2020 elections, so you kind of look at that, it could be a very promising launch," Adgate said. “You have debates, you have the convention, you’re going to have rallies. There will be a lot of heightened news, and of course, with the possibility of impeachment (of President Donald Trump). There’s a lot of potential to get strong numbers out of the launch."