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Black Family Irons Out Details of Move to Web

Atlanta-based Black Family Channel is still poised to go off the air early next week as the network continues to negotiate with Gospel Music Channel to transfer its 16 million subscribers to the music service.

The two parties at press time were still ironing out details of a plan in which BFC will yield its distribution contracts to 10 million-subscriber Gospel, along with its blessings, effectively ending its run as a cable channel as of April 30.

BFC executives said that the network will “not shut down operations,” though, and people close to the network said its programming will go to the Internet.

BFC — originally co-owned by lawyer Willie Gary, former baseball star Cecil Fielder, entertainer Marlon Jackson, cable veteran Alvin James and former heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield — offered African-American-targeted, family-friendly programming, overseen by actor and producer Robert Townsend.

None of the ownership principles could be reached for comment.

Gary last week told the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post that Time Warner Cable and Comcast also will have equity in the new BFC venture, as will Gospel Music Channel founder Charley Humbard.

But Comcast officials said the cable operator isn't aware of any investment plans regarding BFC. Time Warner and Gospel Music Channel would not comment on the matter.

Despite its star power and its relatively unique positioning — along with BET and TV One — as a national network targeting African-American audiences, BFC was unable to secure sufficient cable and satellite distribution to continue to fund the network, according to industry executives, leading to the Gospel negotiations.

The owners have invested some $75 million in the network since its 1999 launch as Major Broadcasting Corp. The network was renamed Black Family Channel in 2004.

If a deal is consummated, it's unlikely that Gospel will absorb any content from BFC, executives close to the situation said. That includes such shows as Lisa Knight and the Roundtable, which recently won a NAMIC Vision Award from the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications for best children's program.

Those programs will most likely migrate to the Web.

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.