24-hour news network won’t be housed at FAMU
Bob Brillante, a veteran of Florida’s cable news market, is co-manager of The Black Television News Channel. (Photo: Special to the Democrat)
Submitted by Byron Dobson, Democrat senior writer
Much-hyped plans to house the privately-owned 24-hour Black Television News Channel at Florida A&M University have been shelved.
Instead, network partners say the network, envisioned as being tailored for Black viewers, will launch from another location in Tallahassee.
The development is the latest in a series of false starts for both network investors and for FAMU’s School of Journalism & Graphic Communication. It also comes just four months after a ribbon-cutting ceremony to announce a February 2018 launch date at the school.
Tallahassee media veteran Bob Brillante, who is a co-managing partner of the enterprise along with former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, said the leadership remains committed to getting the network off the ground.
It also remains committed to providing FAMU’s media students with access to a professional television network where they will get hands-on training, mentoring and, for those who stand out, jobs.
“Yes, that is correct,” Brillante told the Democrat when asked about the move from FAMU. “The space, originally allocated to provide operations for the Black Television News Channel, will be occupied by students and not available for the construction.
“It is regrettable, but it will work out,” he said.
Brillante said he and his partners expect to soon sign a lease on another location in northeast Tallahassee, with plans to begin construction this month on a studio and space for the Tallahassee staff. The company needs about 20,000 square feet to operate.
Brillante launched the Florida News Channel in Tallahassee in 1998. The regional cable news channel went off air in 2005.
The decision to abandon plans to build at FAMU was made within the past month, Brillante said, after discussions with interim SGJC Dean Dhyana Ziegler, who replaced Ann Kimbrough in May.
“We all just came to the same conclusion that an off-campus facility would be more attractive,” Brillante said. “It was a mutual decision.”
The network planned to take over half the school’s building on campus for its operational and media training facility, along with studios and business offices.
“To accommodate our construction schedule, they would have had to move classrooms out of the area,” Brillante said of the FAMU building space.
Ziegler said she expressed concern about losing classrooms, but she was not involved in meetings between investors and Interim FAMU President Larry Robinson when the decision was made.
Robinson has supported the partnership since he and Watts signed an agreement in 2014. He hopes the two sides can still work together despite the company’s plans to set up operations elsewhere.
“I am looking forward to working with them in any capacity we can,” Robinson said following Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting. “There may be a different role than what was perceived in 2014.”
Last week, Brillante said FAMU’s journalism faculty will work with the network to establish an internship curriculum for its students. Details of that plan have yet to be finalized, he said.
Bringing the enterprise to campus would have required full approval from FAMU’s board of trustees and from the Board of Governors, since it would be considered a public-private partnership.
Brillante said the decision was driven by the network’s promise of having the channel on air by February.
“The mission and the objectives have not changed one bit; the location has changed,” former Tallahassee Mayor John Marks said. Marks taught mass communication law at FAMU the past two semesters and is an investor and partner in the business.
The now-scuttled partnership agreement had included plans for the network to build production studios and a student training center and to pay FAMU 2.5 percent of the network’s annual revenue, “capped” at $500,000 through the first three years of operation and $1 million annually following the third year through the 10th year of operations
Over the past three years, Watts and Brillante have tried to obtain financing for equipment, negotiated cable distribution agreements, and continued to lobby for a Federal Communications Commission waiver.
The network needs the waiver to distribute BTNC through satellite, which requires federal regulatory approval.
Brillante said the waiver is still being sought. He said U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, along with U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio have given their support in Washington.
In January, the network announced it had reached a pivotal agreement with Charter Communications. Charter, the nation’s second-largest cable provider behind Comcast, operates as Charter Spectrum. The multi-year agreement allows Charter to carry the news channel in 14 of its largest markets of black consumers.
BTNC already has agreements with Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, and with Dish Network, Brillante said.
On Wednesday, the network announced it had signed an agreement with WorldLink Ventures, Inc., one of the largest independent multi-platform advertising sales firms in the world, to have WorldLink exclusively represent BTNC for direct response advertising sales.
Contact senior writer Byron Dobson at email@example.com or on Twitter @byrondobson.