California Black Media’s McKenzie Jackson goes one-on-one with Black Television News Channel co-founder J.C. Watts, for a candid discussion on the vital importance of “culturally-specific” programming for African-American viewers.

Will California viewers be able to watch the Black Television News Channel (BTNC) when it debuts next fall? Along with his partner, veteran Florida television veteran Robert Brillante, former U.S. congressman J.C. Watts has been working tirelessly for six years to ensure that the network he founded in 2008 will be available to the widest possible audience. With a deal already in place at Dish Network, BTNC is eyeing a deal with Comcast that would position the Tallahassee Fla.-based channel to send its signal into the media giant’s top ten U.S. markets by February 2016. As BTNC moves quickly toward its official debut next fall, Watts sat down with California Black Media to discuss the stakes for the nation’s first Black-oriented news channel.

How important is California viewership to BTNC?

In my opinion, it would be crazy to have a news operation and not have the state of California or Los Angeles represented. You can almost look at the places around the country where you have an ethnic minority mayor. Those markets are going to be pretty critical to us.

Why is it important to have a news channel directed toward African-American viewers?

When Trayvon Martin happened, where did the community go? When Ferguson, Mo. happened, where do the community go? We can go to the radio, but we can’t go to the TV. It’s either CNN, MSNBC or Fox News. And CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News … they have black faces that they put on TV, but those black faces are not usually talking about African-American content. When people on MSNBC, CNN, or Fox News talk about Thanksgiving dinner, and what they are going to have for dessert, they talk about pumpkin pie. But most people in the African-American community don’t eat pumpkin pie; we eat sweet potato pie. It’s culturally specific to our community.

Why is Comcast’s merger with Time Warner important to BTNC?

When we look at the Time Warner-Comcast acquisition, Time Warner-Comcast will control 94 percent of the African-American community. They will control 19 of the top 20 African-American markets and 43 out of the top 50 urban markets. You got one company that is going to control everything that comes into the African-American community. In the last agreement we had with Comcast in 2008, before the capital markets went south on us, they were going to launch us in six of their top ten markets.

How will BTNC cover black issues that have garnered attention in the national spotlight?

We will be culturally specific. Every time a black person is pulled over by a police officer it is not profiling, but do I believe profiling exists? Yes I do. In my world, that is the reality. With most black people – I don’t care if they are watching Fox News, CNN or MSNBC – a culturally specific perspective is lacking. You will get a culturally specific perspective from BTNC.

Is BTNC something the African-Americans in the United States need?

The African-American community has stated back in 2003, 2004, when I started working on this about 84, 85 percent said we don’t feel like we have anything on television that is culturally specific to us. That number has grown over the last 10 years. Facts compiled by the cable industry itself.  The African-American community is the most underserved community out there.

How is the black community underserved?

There are over a 120 Hispanic stations and three news channels. The African-American community has [very few]. Most of the program on these channels is reprogramming which means it’s pre-watched. They have no news channels.

What type of news programming will be shown on BTNC?

We will have 14 to 16 hours per day of original programing. From nine in the morning to nine at night, we will have personality-driven shows, news magazine shows. “Good Morning America”-type shows. We come in with breaking news. We will take our top shows and re-run them at about nine or ten at night, then overnight will be religious broadcasting.

Can BTNC be successful?

We feel like we can be extremely successful, because we are targeting an underserved community.


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