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The TV network Black News Channel goes off the air after 2 years

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When the TV network Black News Channel launched two years ago, the journalists there hoped to cover stories in a different way. At the time, they said they were, quote, "dedicated to covering the unique perspectives, challenges and successes of Black and brown communities." BNC's CEO then shocked employees last week when he announced that the network would be shutting down immediately. Here to explain BNC's downfall is Rodney Ho. He's an entertainment reporter with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who's been covering the story. And he joins us now. Welcome.

RODNEY HO: How are you doing?

CHANG: Great. Well, if you could just give us a little more about the origin story of BNC - like, who launched it exactly?

HO: It was actually - the Congressman J.C. Watts came up with the idea and hooked up with this Pakistani billionaire, Jackson Jaguars owner Shahid Khan. And he was willing to put up quite a bit of money to start up the operation. They started, I think, officially in 2020, right before the pandemic - probably not the greatest time. And they focused on basic cable channels. They got decent distribution. I think they got into over 50 million households.

CHANG: Wow.

HO: And they also brought in Princell Hair, who is a veteran cable news network executive. He worked at CNN. And he took over last year, was really ambitious. He hired Marc Lamont Hill, the commentator. The New York Times columnist Charles Blow was also given a prime-time show. So they wanted to make it big.

CHANG: And how did BNC try to differentiate itself from the rest of the media landscape - like, how specifically?

HO: I mean, I think by dint of its title, Black News Channel - they took everything through the lens of the Black community and how it impacted them, you know? And it's interesting that they had their highest ratings just last week with Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation. Unfortunately, I guess by then, the money had started running out to try and build up this operation without getting enough of an audience.

CHANG: And can we talk about that? Like, yeah, over the recent months, BNC went through several rounds of layoffs, ultimately culminating in this announcement that the network's going to shut down entirely. Like, what caused all of this?

HO: It may be the fundamental issue that a lot of the people who follow news - they get their news from social media. You know, they get their news from YouTube and Instagram. Basic cable - it may have been a great idea to launch a basic cable network in 1992. This was not the right vehicle to catch people. And even though it was in 50 million households, like, I realize for me to find the channel, I had to go to, like, Channel 270.

CHANG: Wow.

HO: I mean, CNN and Fox News - they're on Channel 44, 46. I'm not going to wander down into that area to try and find them. It's hard to - you know, to access them. Even if you technically had access, it's like being in the top shelf in a dusty corner of a supermarket where nobody can see you.

CHANG: So you see this demise being more a symptom of, there just isn't that big of an audience for any cable news network trying to start now, rather than specifically how BNC was run.

HO: You could argue either way. You could say that maybe they spent too much. That's - some people have argued that they tried to grow too quickly without putting in the proper marketing dollars to build awareness. Or maybe it was a fundamental issue of, it wasn't the right place to build an operation. Maybe they should have focused on just doing a digital video operation. It would have been a lot cheaper.

CHANG: Well then, what's available now in the media landscape for Black and brown audiences who are interested in learning about the news but through a lens that is specific for them?

HO: They already exist, but most of them are online - I mean, theGrio, The Root. Roland Martin, who was actually offered a job at Black News Channel but turned it down because they didn't offer him enough pay - he has his own news operation. It's very small and grassroots, but he says it's profitable. I think there are ways to get news out there in a way that works and where the audience is. And unfortunately, the audience is not, you know, the - especially younger audience is no longer on cable news or cable network systems.

CHANG: Rodney Ho is a reporter with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Thank you very much for joining us today.

HO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHROMATICS SONG, "BLUE GIRL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.