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 .