Picture This

Black Family Channel: Big Loss

5/16/2007 9:56 AM

The demise of Black Family Channel may not have been big news at the recent Cable Show in Sin City or, for that matter, in a cable universe that has more than 500 channels representing a wide range of genres and interests.

But when you consider that it was one of only three networks that prominently featured African-American images, its loss seems that much greater to a very important and financially influential segment of cable’s audience.

Nearly one-quarter of all cable revenue comes from African-American homes, according to BET, and yet less than 1% of the industry’s video channels target that audience. And that was before 16 million-subscriber BFC — after failing to gain enough carriage deals and licensing-fee revenue to stay afloat — recently decided to move its content from linear cable to the Web.

Some may counter by saying that African-American performers are so prevalent on virtually all cable and broadcast networks that there isn’t much of a need for one network, much less three networks, that offers a preponderance of such images.

When you wake up in the morning and see Robin Roberts co-hosting ABC’s Good Morning America or settle into bed and watch actor D.B. Woodside play our president on 24, some may ask why is it necessary to have a network like BFC — which aired shows with predominantly black casts like comedy/variety series Partners in Crime — to see black faces on TV?

But BFC and other African-American-targeted networks will be essential as long as the likes of Don Imus, Michael Richards, Opie and Anthony and hard-core rap artists easily find humor, sport or profit by using demeaning words and images to degrade people of color in general and minority women in particular.

I won’t recount the ill-warranted behavior and undignified language from all of the aforementioned entertainers (they’ve received enough press as it is), but their actions illustrate the need for more vehicles that celebrate and highlight people of color in different lights — and not just as stereotypical criminals, gang-bangers and sex objects often depicted in standup comic routines, early morning shock-radio shows or music videos.

Such demeaning words and images often fall innocently on the ears of impressionable young boys and especially girls, creating an aura of self-doubt and powerlessness as they enter adulthood.

Say what you want about BFC’s programming quality or on-air star power, but BFC did bring positive images of young people of color to homes all across the country through such shows as inspiring competition series Thou$and Dollar Spelling Bee, in which young minority boys and girls participated in a competition using their brains and not their athletic prowess or good looks.

But now BFC will only exist in cyberspace. And its voice in a very noisy cable-channel marketplace won’t be replaced as easily as its channel slot has been on numerous cable networks.