You may have missed the headline, and maybe you never watched the channel, but Black Family Channel (BFC) is taking itself off the air and according to Multichannel News is selling its subscribers to the Gospel Channel.
Black Family Channel was launched by mega-lawyer Willie Gary, baseball’s Cecil Fielder, Marlon Jackson (of Jackson 5 fame), business pioneer Alvin James and Evander Holyfield. Last year the station tried to add even more star power to its executive ranks pulling in Robert Townsend to oversee programming.
The channel was supposed to deliver a family-friendly alternative to the oft-times over-the-top content found on BET, but the better positioned TV One may have beaten them to that dance. You may not have even noticed Black Family Channel because for most of the US they actually weren’t even on the dial. The channel achieved distribution in only 16 of the more than 90 million cable homes that make up the universe in the United States. TV One , another BET-alternative is available in some 30 million homes and growing. And TV One has the benefit of some very well placed partners with both radio powerhouse Radio One and Comcast on board.
So what do we lose with no Black Family Channel? A little diversity certainly, but with African Americans making up only roughly 10% of the overall population it’s hard to see how many channels race-themed programming can support. BET reaches some 80 million US homes according to Hoovers and dominates the demo.
As with all media, the biggest competition is not necessarily found on the set-top, but the Net. As broadband grows everyone has more power to watch whatever whenever. And with sites like YouTube making content creators out of anyone, cable has to do more work to keep audiences tuned-in. BFC could be the first of many to suffer and shutter as advertisers shift TV dollars to the Net. Could cable go the way of print in the on-line onslaught? Doubt it. Good content is compelling but the Internet is a merciless competitor. Stay tuned.
John N. Pasmore • New York, NY • Very.fm