Reason for ‘Black News Channel’ shutting down revealed

Troubled channel quietly fails despite ‘incredible assignment’

The Black News Channel, a network launched in 2020 to focus on the black community, has left the airwaves after just two years, done in by a discrimination lawsuit and lack of funds. CEO Princell Hair confirmed on Friday that the company was filing for bankruptcy and that the channel would cease airing new programming that afternoon.

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The announcement puts some 230 mostly-black employees out of work with almost no warning. The channel failed to make payroll on Friday, just a day after telling workers their checks would be “delayed,” and it’s unclear when or if they will get the money they are owed. Employee benefits will last through just next week and no severance payments will be given, a source briefed on the plans told the Los Angeles Times.

The channel’s main investor, Jacksonville Jaguars team owner Shad Khan, was unwilling to pony up further cash after his $50 million initial funding round got the network off the ground, sources told the outlet. While its owners attempted to sell it to other media companies, none were biting, and the office suffered what Hair called “very painful workforce reductions at all levels of the network” in the months preceding the shutdown.

Hair ultimately blamed “challenging market conditions and global financial pressures,” but the network was also dealing with a gender discrimination lawsuit, with current and former female employees claiming they were being paid less than their male counterparts and called “insufficiently feminine” by management.

The market conditions appeared challenging as well. The channel debuted at a time when cable news shows were clocking all-time ratings lows, and many TV viewers were switching over to streaming platforms like Netflix. The Black News Channel could barely net 10,000 viewers for its programs, according to Nielsen data cited by the Times. The channel, co-founded by former Republican congressman JC Watts (Oklahoma), was hampered out of the gate by what was expected to be a conservative political bent.

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When Hair took over, with Watts relegated to the role of chairman, the network was remade to look more like CNN (whose US operations Hair ran in the past). They added cable-safe opinion figures from the New York Times and CNN and rolled out a new prime-time lineup last March. But by the time the channel had hit its stride, providing in-depth coverage of the trials of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, convicted of killing George Floyd, and the three Georgia men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery, it was already struggling financially despite a slight uptick in viewership numbers.

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