Black News Channel Shuts Down Two Years After Debut
The network, which had high-profile commentators like Charles Blow and Marc Lamont Hill, was unable to pay its employees last week
Black News Channel, a cable news network that went on the air two years ago to provide an alternative look at news from Black Americans' perspective, is shutting down, the outlet's chief executive told employees on Friday.
"Due to challenging market conditions and global financial pressures, we have been unable to meet our financial goals, and the timeline afforded to us has run out," Princell Hair, who has been chief executive since July 2020, wrote in a memo to staff. "Effective immediately, BNC will cease live production and file for bankruptcy."
Black News Channel's abrupt closure comes just a year after the network revamped its lineup with high-profile commentators like Charles Blow and Marc Lamont Hill, and added a new morning show. It also shows the difficulties traditional cable-TV channels face as cord-cutting continues and consumers turn away from the channel dial.
The network, which was co-founded by former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts, is largely backed by automotive-parts billionaire and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan.
Mr. Khan had explored a sale of some or all of the network in recent months, people familiar with the matter said.
Mr. Khan, who has invested roughly $50 million in BNC, won't invest any further, according to some of the people.
A spokesman for Mr. Khan had no comment.
By 5 p.m. ET on Friday, the network started running old programming, which will last through the rest of this month, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.
BNC's more than 200 employees didn't receive their paychecks last week, the people said. "They won't receive severance pay or benefits beyond the end of the month.''
"Arrangements have been made for the company to pay all earned but unpaid wages to laid-off employees," the board of BNC said in a statement Friday evening.
Under Mr. Hair's leadership, BNC landed distribution deals with most pay-TV providers, including Comcast Corp.'s Xfinity, Dish Network Corp. and DirecTV. The network said it reached roughly 50 million households.
BNC didn't receive fees from distributors for carrying its channel, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. Instead, the network relied on advertising revenue and funding from its backer -- a practice that is commonplace for most upstart cable channels.
The network's viewership hit a peak of 80,000 last week, according to Nielsen data, as it aired wall-to-wall coverage of confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Hair, a TV veteran whose resume includes CBS, CNN, Turner Broadcasting and NBC Sports, had looked to shake up the cable-TV news landscape, which has seen audiences divided among major networks like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.
Fox News parent Fox Corp. and The Wall Street Journal parent News Corp share common ownership.
Mike Hill, an anchor on Black News Channel's daily weekday morning news show, Start Your Day With Sharon and Mike, said he was surprised the network shut down so quickly.
He said he realized there were warning signs, such as layoffs in December and Thursday's companywide email about delayed paychecks.
"Like any other startup network, there were bumps along the way, but we were overcoming them," Mr. Hill said. "Hopefully something comes around like this again, and hopefully it gets the marketing it needs, the attention it needs, and the viewership it needs."