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Shad Khan’s Black News Channel is shutting down

Four Black news people sit around an anchor desk
BNC host Aisha Mills, left, host Del Walters, BNC President and Chief Executive Princell Hair and “BNC Prime” host Charles Blow.
(Black News Channel)
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Black News Channel, the TV news service launched in early 2020 to be a voice for people of color, is ceasing operations Friday afternoon.

A memo to employees from BNC’s chief executive, Princell Hair, confirmed The Times’ earlier report of the closure plans. The company is filing for bankruptcy, and live programming will end at 2 p.m. PDT/5 p.m. EDT. The channel will air repeats for the rest of the month.

The Tallahassee, Fla.-based outlet, whose majority stakeholder is Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, failed to meet payroll on Friday, a day after telling employees that paychecks would be delayed.

The announcement means BNC’s staff of 230 — a vast majority of whom are people of color — are out of work. They have been told benefits will last through next week and there will be no severance, according to one person briefed on the plans.

Shad Khan, the Jacksonville Jaguars owner who continues to try to infuse life into his struggling NFL franchise, might be going the safer route by becoming the sixth American to purchase an English Premier League team with the completion of the sale of Fulham on Friday.

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Khan was no longer willing to invest further, according to people briefed on the matter. The channel has been shopped to a number of media companies, including Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios, but there were no takers. The company endured several rounds of layoffs in recent months.

“During the past few months, we have endured very painful workforce reductions at all levels of the network as we worked to achieve our financial goal of a break-even business,” Princell said in the memo obtained by The Times.

“This has forced all of you to do more with less, and your contributions have been remarkable. Unfortunately, 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.”

Black News Channel was conceived by a group headed up by former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) and media executive Bob Brillante. The channel launched after Khan made a $50-million investment in 2019, making him the majority shareholder.

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The channel reached more than 50 million cable and satellite households, but was unable to generate a significant audience.

The entity entered the cable news landscape at a time when consumers were shifting away from traditional TV. Most video-based TV start-ups and niche services are turning to streaming platforms.

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The average audience for BNC was fewer than 10,000 viewers, according to Nielsen data, though it had been growing in recent months.

The failure to meet payroll and the expected announcement of a shutdown stunned and angered employees at the channel. Many of the staffers came to BNC from larger, established news organizations because they believed in the mission of a TV service that provided news and information for a diverse audience.

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But BNC, which delayed its launch a few times, had to overcome some early stumbles. When Watts announced the network, he signaled that it would have a conservative slant, which likely turned off a large segment of the potential audience. He touted a possible show with right-wing radio host and former California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder.

The company also had to deal with a class-action discrimination lawsuit filed by former and current female employees. The suit alleged that the women were being paid less than their male counterparts and that managers complained that they were “insufficiently feminine.”

Hair, a veteran news executive who once headed CNN’s U.S. operations, was brought in after the launch and made the channel look more like the established cable news outlets, mixing breaking news coverage during the day with opinion programs at night.

Hair signed several big-name hosts, including New York Times opinion writer Charles Blow and former Atlanta TV anchor Sharon Reed.

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The channel also gave a daily voice to commentators such as Aisha Mills, Marc Lamont Hill and Nayyera Haq, who had been limited to contributor roles on other networks.

The channel distinguished itself with in-depth coverage of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minnesota police officer convicted of killing George Floyd in 2020. BNC was also ahead of the other media outlets in providing gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial of three white Georgia men who were convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging in their Brunswick neighborhood in 2020.

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