Black News Channel hopes to provide a fresh voice for Black viewers

The Black News Channel, with morning show hosts Mike Hill (from left) and Sharon Reed and  BNC president and CEO Princell Hill, was nearly invisible upon its launch last year, but it is revamping to take on a new look. BNC via AP
The Black News Channel, with morning show hosts Mike Hill (from left) and Sharon Reed and BNC president and CEO Princell Hill, was nearly invisible upon its launch last year, but it is revamping to take on a new look. BNC via AP

Credit: BNC

Credit: BNC

Former CBS46′s Sharon Reed is part of the new lineup on BNC.

Opening the “Start Your Day” program last Wednesday on the Black News Channel (BNC), new co-host Mike Hill took issue with a Swedish soccer player telling NBA star LeBron James to “stick to sports” instead of delving into social activism.

“As a Black man, I could never understand that,” Hill said, his voice laced with irritation. “Never. Not for entertainers, not for athletes, not for me as a former sportscaster. People say, ‘Stick to sports.’ I’m still a Black man. I’m still a father. I’m still a husband. I still care about this community. Until I see equality in this country, I’m never going to shut up.”

That declaration on his third day on-air is a clarion call for viewers seeking an alternative to the myriad of existing news options. It’s the type of statement he would have felt uncomfortable saying on Fox Sports, where he has worked the past eight years.

“I got tired of the sports narrative,” Hill said later that day during an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Even though I was doing sports and sportscasting, I was finding myself leaning toward political views.”

After years of discussions, Black News Channel officially launched on-air in February 2020, fueled by a major financial investment from NFL Jacksonville Jaguars owner, auto-parts entrepreneur and billionaire Shahid Khan.

Khan hired experienced TV executive Princell Hair last July as CEO. Hair’s resumé includes stops at NBC Sports, Comcast Sports, Turner Broadcasting and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles. He was senior vice president for program and talent development at CNN in 2004 and 2005 and lived in Roswell for a time.

“Our mission is to provide multi-platform programming that is entertaining, informative and inspiring for Black and brown communities,” Hair said. “I’ve worked in newsrooms my entire career. This group has been underserved. We want to provide a voice for the voiceless.”

But first, Hair had to ensure viewers could actually access BNC, which has its headquarters in Tallahassee, Florida. He negotiated deals to expand accessibility over the past eight months from 2.5 million households to 52 million.

The trick now is to get viewers to watch. For Hair, that means beefing up the news operation. He has nearly tripled the staff from 55 to 155, adding new correspondents nationwide and hiring commentators Charles Blow and Marc Lamont Hill to do their own shows. (Blow, a New York Times opinion columnist, splits time between Atlanta and New York.)

New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow will have a new show on Black News Channel. NEW YORK TIMES
New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow will have a new show on Black News Channel. NEW YORK TIMES

Credit: NEW YORK TIMES

Credit: NEW YORK TIMES

Author and professor Marc Lamont Hill will have a show on Black News Channel. Courtesy
Author and professor Marc Lamont Hill will have a show on Black News Channel. Courtesy

Credit: PUBLICI

Credit: PUBLICI

He also revamped the morning show, adding Hill and Sharon Reed, a fervent broadcaster who last worked at Atlanta local station CBS46 two years ago. Because of the pandemic, the two hosts are working remotely, but Hair plans to build out a studio for them in Atlanta at a later date. Joining them are Atlanta-based reporter Lauren McCoy and meteorologist Kevan Smith.

For now, Reed is working from her home in Atlanta. Hill is splitting time between Los Angeles and Atlanta, where his new wife and “Real Housewives of Atlanta” cast member Cynthia Bailey resides.

“The time couldn’t be more perfect for this,” Reed said. “You can tell where my heart is on this. It’s just an opportunity to be authentic and real and passionate and just tell the truth. In this case, the truth about Black people and our diversity and our excellence.”

She said after she spoke with Hair about his vision for BNC, she was sold: “I left that meeting and drove around for two hours listening to music, just thinking, ‘These kinds of opportunities don’t come around every day.’ I desperately wanted this.”

Hill said when heard Reed might be his co-anchor, he became excited, having had her as a guest on Fox Sports: “I’ve always admired and respected Sharon’s tenacity and fearlessness.”

He hopes their morning show can fish out stories and topics that aren’t already existing trending topics on what he terms “Black Twitter.” Instead, Hill said, “we want to be the influences for Black Twitter.”

Hair said he liked this combination because both Reed and Hill are “dynamic personalities and intellectually curious.” And he believes both are capable of doing compelling long-form interviews with newsmakers.

Sharon Reed and Mike Hill are the hosts of the new morning show on Black News Channel. BNC
Sharon Reed and Mike Hill are the hosts of the new morning show on Black News Channel. BNC

Credit: BNC

Credit: BNC

Eric Duggans, TV critic for National Public Radio, said Black News Channel faces many challenges to gain attention in an increasingly fragmented and scattered news landscape.

First of all, he said, the Black audience is younger and more difficult to reach.

“And I think people over the years have been trained not to expect a lot from the CNNs or ABCs or Frontlines of the world to represent Black culture,” Duggans said. “That creates a dynamic where it’s harder to get audiences of color to care about traditional news programming.”

On top of that, building a full-fledged news operation takes a lot of upfront financial investment and could quickly become a financial black hole. Duggans noted the failed Al-Jazeera America effort in the United States from 2013 to 2016 and WGN’s recent struggles to create viable prime-time news programming.

NewsMax and One America have made ratings inroads in recent months, siphoning some of the Fox News audience, but Duggans said that is an older audience that is already inured to watching cable news.

“I hope BNC can manage to keep it going,” Duggans said, “but they are going in knowing they are going to lose money for a while. Hopefully, they have a plan for that.”

Hair said the company may consider moving to a larger city, and Atlanta is a possibility given its airport and accessibility to notable in-studio guests.

And from a marketing perspective, Hair plans to interchange the use of Black News Channel and the acronym BNC. “We live in a world of acronyms,” he said. “BNC is just easier.”

ON TELEVISION

Black News Channel

Available for subscribers on certain tiers of Xfinity, DIRECTV, Spectrum, AT&T and Dish as well as several online streaming platforms such as Pluto TV, Amazon Fire TV, Tubi and Roku. BNC is available in over 52 million households.

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