J.C. Watts apparently has found another way to create news beyond political office. The former Oklahoma congressman told the New York Post in a story published earlier this week that he plans to launch a television news network targeted at a black audience in early 2009. The new cable network is tentatively called the Black Television News Channel. "I'm not so sure that you see anything on CNN or Fox News that specifically targets the African-American community,” Watts told the Post. He did not elaborate on financial costs or financial backers for the new endeavor. Watts told the Post that he wanted to provide news coverage that goes beyond crime stories. "Our community features millions of people with all kinds of backgrounds,” Watts said. "There's a much broader segment of the population than what we see in the mainstream news.”
About J.C. WattsWatts is a former University of Oklahoma football star and served as a Republican representative for the Fourth District of Oklahoma in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He now lives in Washington and operates the J.C. Watts Cos. There is no question that an audience exists for news tailored specifically for black Americans, said Oklahoma City businessman Russell Perry, owner of the Black Chronicle newspaper.
Is there an audience?Perry started the Black Chronicle to serve the city's black audience in 1979 and since has expanded his media empire to include a radio network that comprises stations in Oklahoma and Georgia. "I think there are still areas for African-Americans to present their case from a news point of view,” Perry said. "I'm a conservative Republican and still carry Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton because there's a market for that, an audience for that that they wouldn't get any other place.” The Post story reported that Watts' network already has an agreement with Comcast cable to be carried in several cities with large black populations, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Atlanta and Baltimore. An endorsement from Comcast, which owns more than half of a black-oriented television network called TV One, shows that the proposed network must have some major backers, Perry said. "I think he's on the right course, and it seems like he has the proper backing going into those major markets the right way with cable,” he said. "I think he's on the right course, and knowing Congressman Watts, he has thought this out.”
‘Deep pockets' neededHowever, the financial and broadcast expertise to start and sustain a major network are huge, said Marc Krein, an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Broadcasting at Oklahoma State University. Krein freelances in sports production for several major networks, including ESPN. "Yes there is certainly a target audience,” Krein said. "My question would be, can they sustain it financially and can they manage it correctly? They are going to have to bring in some real quality people and obviously have some deep pockets.” The Post quoted an industry source who said that it would cost at least $100 million to start a cable news network. Krein once freelanced in the production truck at sports events for the Major Broadcasting Cable Network, an African American-owned cable network that has since changed its name to the Black Family Channel. "I think it had potential, but I don't think it was managed very well,” Krein said. "I think they underestimated how much it costs to put together one of these networks and sustain it. "I also question whether a whole network needs to be dedicated to it or whether some of these other networks can dedicate some specialized programming.”