African American-Focused Networks Embrace Their Mission

In the aftermath of the June protests over the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, African-American targeted networks and streaming services are vowing to continue to keep issues important to the Black community at the forefront of new programming as the news cycle shifts to other breaking stories.

The BET Awards provided artists like rapper Roddy Ricch a chance to weigh in on current cultural issues.

The BET Awards provided artists like rapper Roddy Ricch a chance to weigh in on current cultural issues.

Executives at services such as Fox Soul, BET, TV One and Black News Channel said they provide a platform for target audiences to voice their concerns and demands regarding police brutality, systematic racism and other issues even as other events dominate news coverage in the future.

“We are in a unique position,” Black News Channel VP of news and programming Gary Wordlaw said. “I think people will turn to our network and others to compare the type of coverage we’re doing versus what they’re seeing on CNN, Fox News or MSNBC, and see that we’re giving stories important to our audience longer, in-depth treatment.”

Along with full coverage of regularly-scheduled shows, Black News Channel in May launched BNC Now, a live afternoon news show that allows for more discussion of the issues facing Black America, Wordlaw said. The network has also produced town hall specials that focus on specific issues ranging from police reform to the continuing effects of COVID-19 on the African-American community.

Entertainment networks are also heeding the community’s call. Streaming service Fox Soul in May launched The Black Report, a news and public-affairs show that offers a voice to disenfranchised African-Americans and provides its core viewers with much-needed information, according to Fox Soul president James DuBose.

Expanding its reach, Fox Soul two weeks ago launched one- to two-hour programming blocks on several Fox-owned stations, including WWOR New York, KCOP Los Angeles and KDFI Dallas.

“When all the other networks and services go back to normal business, we will continue to provide a voice for the black community because we have the ability to celebrate black culture every day,” DuBose said.

BET has been aggressive in its approach to covering the protests and their aftermath. Along with several June town hall specials, the network’s June 28 BET Awards provided a platform for artists from Beyoncé to Alicia Keys to address the movement against police brutality and racial injustice within the country.

Funding ‘Content for Change’

BET also announced a new social-justice initiative called “Content for Change,” designed to support the creation, distribution, marketing and promotion of programs aimed at eliminating systemic racism and inequality in America. The initiative will receive $25 million in funding from BET and its corporate partners.

“We have to give people an opportunity to have a voice, to express their rage, to express their grief, to engage in community,” BET president Scott Mills said.

Wordlaw said that the issues of police reform and economic inequality that rose up from the Floyd protests will remain very important to the community. Networks targeting the African-American community have a responsibility to serve their audience by providing an avenue for discussion of such issues, he said.

“It’s an awesome responsibility and I’m very happy to be a part of it, but we’re just a small part of it,” he said. “All of us have a responsibility to continue to put forth a story, and not one of us thinks any of us are independent — we have to work together to get the information to our audiences.”  

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.