Struggling NUE-TV Goes Under

The New Urban Entertainment Television service last week closed its doors, ending a three-year run to compete against Black Entertainment Television for the African-American cable marketplace.

NUE-TV founder Dennis Brownlee confirmed on Nov. 4 that the entertainment and lifestyles channel, which was in front of 2 million households, was officially off the air.

Left standing are two African-American targeted services: BET and Atlanta-based Major Broadcasting Co. A proposed third minority-targeted network, spearheaded by rap music mogul Russell Simmons, is on the drawing board.

NUE, launched by Brownlee and veteran cable executive Robert Townsend — now at upstart The Employment Channel — positioned itself as a family-oriented entertainment service targeted to the African-American audience and a competitor to then music-video-heavy BET.

Despite signs of support — notably distribution deals with AT&T Broadband, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications Inc — NUE fell victim to the severe market downturn over the past two years, making it impossible to raise the $100 million it needed, according to Brownlee.

NUE's high-profile investors included music mogul Quincy Jones, veteran cable executive Leo J. Hindery Jr., Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., SFX Entertainment Inc., radio broadcaster Radio One and Prudential Insurance Co. of America.

Deals didn't happen

But an expected additional major investment from Radio One never materialized. Nor did potential deals with AOL Time Warner or Comcast Corp. NUE let go most of its staff in July.

"NUE-TV achieved significant milestones in creating a high quality, urban-oriented network for the African American audience," Brownlee said. "Many people committed their hearts, souls and resources to make it happen. All who were involved are highly disappointed that we were unable to fully implement the vision that was NUE-TV."

MBC national director of affiliate relations Samara Cummins called NUE's demise disappointing for an industry that does not offer many programming outlets for African-American viewers.

"The African-American viewer is the medallion member of this industry. Twenty-three percent of all cable revenue comes from African-Americans, yet African- Americans only make up 10 percent of cable customers. But when you look at channel lineups and what operators do to serve their medallion members, it's not reflective at all," Cummins added.

Brownlee hopes NUE's legacy will be opening a door for other African-American targeted and controlled networks in the future.

"We increased awareness of the industry's urgent need for a new urban network, we demonstrated its market potential, and we helped create an environment in which one will succeed," he said.

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.