What’s In a Name Change? More Subs for MBC

With a major overhaul set for this fall, Major Broadcasting Corp. hopes its renewed focus on African American-targeted family fare will jump-start its sluggish subscriber growth.

The network will change its name from MBC to Black Family Channel on Oct. 1 in an effort to better define itself for both consumers and operators, said MBC executive vice president Travis Mitchell.

At 12 million subscribers, the five-year-old service has struggled to gain a significant base in a crowded segment occupied by the preeminent African-American service Black Entertainment Television and Comcast Corp.-backed upstart TV One.

Co-owner and former baseball star Cecil Fielder said part of the network’s struggle is attributable to a lack of brand identity with the MBC moniker, which hasn’t adequately reflected the network’s programming or mission.

“I don’t think people were catching on to the name MBC,” Fielder said. “What the Black Family Channel does is it gives us some identity within our community.”

As Black Family Channel, Mitchell said, the network can now help operators reach out to African-American subscribers.

“It helps us help operators by clearly signifying to their customer base that they have an African-American family channel,” Mitchell said. “When you get the promotional material that says Black Family Channel is in the lineup, then it drives customer awareness.”

Mitchell believes the change will yield an additional 4 million subs by year’s end, although he would not reveal specific MSO distribution details.

MBC has also bet that recently named president of original productions Robert Townsend will help breathe new life into the network. Townsend, who produced such films as Hollywood Shuffle and starred in The WB sitcom The Parent ’Hood (1995-99), is in development on a number of family-targeted shows, including a urban kids-targeted block to air weekdays and Saturday mornings.

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.