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The Number Of Black Owned Full Power TV Stations Dropped To Zero In 2013

by Sergio
January 2, 2014 8:56 AM
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Among everything that happened last year, there was one major newsworthy item that was completely overlooked by the media: the sad statistic that there are no longer any black-owned, full power TV station in the United States.

According to the New Pittsburgh Courier, which reported the story earlier this week, there were some 18 black-owned stations in 2006, which represented 1.3% of all TV stations. That number dropped down to just five last year. And in 2013, those five no longer existed, all being bought up by larger media companies.

The reason for this sorry situation started back during the late 1990s, when “Congress and the Federal Communications Commission allowed massive consolidation in the broadcasting industry. This policy shift crowded out existing owners of color and ensured that it would be nearly impossible for new owners to access the public airwaves..."

One of the last few remaining black-owned full power stations, Roberts Broadcasting - founded by the siblings Michael and Steve Roberts - recently announced a deal to sell its three remaining full power TV stations to ION Media Networks for nearly $8 million.

The reason for the sale was due to the broadcasting company declaring bankruptcy in 2011, which stemmed primarily from Viacom’s decision to shut down the UPN network, which Roberts was affiliated with, due to UPN’s focus on black programming.

In late October, the Sinclair Broadcast Group bought up a Fox affiliate in Portland, Maine, from a company headed by Charles Glover, a former musician turned broadcaster. And that same month, the black owned Access.1 Communications sold off its Atlantic City NBC station to Locus Point Networks.

And as the article points out, it’s ironic that this dismal state of black-owned broadcast ownership should occur during the administration of the country's first black president, who even once pledged to encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media.

As the article states: Media consolidation has made it harder for people of color to own broadcast stations because it raises entry barriers for small owners. Concentration makes it harder for any small owner to compete, and the few non-white broadcast licensees we have are far more likely to be small owners who control just a handful of stations or a single broadcast outlet.

However, there is one small ray of hope; and that’s regarding cheaper to buy and own low power TV stations, which serve smaller areas than more expensive full power TV stations.

Though they lack guaranteed carriage by cable and satellite providers, currently some 15% of those low power stations are owned by people of power, and they do provide an opportunity for black owners to get a foothold in an industry that has systematically cut them off.

However, once again, this small ray of hope might dim with the prospect of the auction of cellphone companies, which could drive out the owners of these low-power TV stations as well.

The FCC is preparing to conduct that incentive auction in the next year or two, and buyers have been buying up both low and full power TV stations in an effort to cash in on the potential auction of those companies.

As a result, station owners are being forced to sell, since their creditors are more interested in pocketing a potential huge financial windfall, than serving the community and already low power TV station owners, and getting out of the business

A very sad state of affairs indeed .

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  • Eric | March 3, 2014 4:53 PMReply

    It's funny how the article fails to mention the multitude of black millionaires in this nation, easily capable of buying a TV station but do not choose to do so. Maybe there are no black TV station owners because the blacks with the bucks, Oprah, Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan, etc, don't want to be in the business. Instead of this article try focusing on the real issue.

  • Diane Robertson | January 3, 2014 5:28 PMReply

    So the Historically Black College, Howard University Public Television station does not count? Sure Howard U gets federal funding and the station is affiliated with PBS but it gets just a percentage of its budget from the University, raises a good chunk of its own budget, is independently managed by BET alum, Jeff Lee, produces local programming and reaches the Washington,DC, Maryland and Virginia area. Does this count?

  • Rodney | January 3, 2014 6:29 PM

    Because its a nonprofit, WHUT is not black-owned. A person or persons can't own a non-profit. The original article is lamenting the lack of black ownership of commercial TV stations.

  • somethinglikethat | January 3, 2014 1:11 PMReply

    I'd be interested to see any of the now dissolved networks take a shift to online distribution of content and programming. Netflix, YouTube, etc. Its not the traditional model, but with increasing numbers of people (not just black people) shifting their (dwindling) attention spans to mobile and desktops - some advances could be made with much lower barriers to entry and consolidation.

  • Rodney | January 3, 2014 6:35 PM

    If by saying "dissolved networks" you're referring to the formerly black-owned TV stations, then yes, it would seem that shifting to online distribution makes sense. Content creators like Black & Sexy TV have shown that you can successfully aggregate audiences on sites like YouTube. The issue is with whether the "digital pennies" earned in online advertising by these content creators can underwrite the cost of creating the content.

  • Rodney | January 2, 2014 12:09 PMReply

    Well at least "we" have BET, TVOne, OWN, Bounce, Aspire and Revolt to carry the mantle (tongue firmly in cheek). You could probably throw in VH1 as well given their efforts to take out corporate sister BET with low brow urban reality. Seriously though, the writing was on the wall for owners of individual broadcast stations post 2008.

  • Andre Seewood | January 2, 2014 11:07 AMReply

    The idea behind such business deals, it would appear, is to limit and control Black programming, considering that Viacom's decision to shut down UPN because of its focus on Black programming. Now that there are no full power Black owned television stations in the Nation, one could say the mission has been accomplished right under our very noses.

  • No | January 2, 2014 9:24 AMReply

    It would have been extremely helpful, Sergio, if you had linked the Pittsburgh Courier story in your article.

  • No | January 2, 2014 9:17 AMReply

    ...And of course, the bill by " Congress and the Federal Communications Commission allowed massive consolidation in the broadcasting industry" was signed by the "first black president," Bill Clinton. The irony is delicious.

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