Owners of the nation’s first 24-hour video news network for African-American viewers, joined Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) administrators at the university for a ribbon-cutting to unveil plans for its new headquarters and launch date in 2018.
The Black Television News Channel (BTNC) will be the first 4K Ultra HD newsgathering and production infrastructure of its kind.
During the event, Byron Pitts, chief national correspondent and Nightline co-anchor at ABC News, announced that he will join the new network as a contributor while continuing his role at ABC.
“I am proud to be a part of this historic venture,” Pitts said. “And I want to thank the Black journalists that came before me and those that will come after me for creating a space to tell the truth and honor the truths of people of color that have often been ignored.”
The BTNC will house its principle operations within the 100,000-square-foot School of Journalism & Graphic Communication facility on FAMU’s campus.
“This partnership is not only unprecedented change, it’s game-changing,” said FAMU Interim President Larry Robinson, Ph.D. “I believe this partnership will be among those that will be chronicled in history in terms of allowing us to reach a larger spectrum of individuals to tell them more about their own culture and perspective that they can appreciate.”
Other features of BTNC’s future operations include a media-training center for aspiring multimedia and visual communicators, including FAMU students and students at other historically Black colleges and universities nationwide.
Congressman Al Lawson, a FAMU graduate, was among elected officials who lauded the network, which is scheduled to launch in February 2018.
“This is a great day at Florida A&M University and in the state of the Florida,” said Lawson. “Many of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus are excited about the opportunity we have here in bringing a news network to Florida A&M’s campus. For the first time, people will be able to tune into the Black Television News Channel and watch what is happening in America through another dimension and another story. Where else better for it to start than here at FAMU?”
Similar sentiments were expressed by former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts, Jr., (R-Oklahoma) and former city of Tallahassee Mayor John Marks III, both owners of BTNC.
Watts is credited with being one of the visionaries behind the network. He expressed gratitude for the unwavering support and advocacy of national leaders including U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), state legislators, staunch supporters in the media industry, and officials at the state and federal levels.
“We will honor the commitment you made to us,” said Watts. “We are honored to be a partner with FAMU’s leaders, students, faculty and staff in this effort.”
According to a study by the Florida State University Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis, the BTNC will generate more than 100 jobs in Tallahassee and more than $30 million annually in economic stimulus for the region.
In March 2014, the FAMU Board of Trustees unanimously approved the agreement with BTNC to establish a “Network Course of Study” that included substantial benefits to the university’s promotion, recruitment, academic and student training programs.
FAMU’s journalism school dean, Ann Wead Kimbrough, DBA, reiterated the BTNC and FAMU effort offers “substantial positives” to enhance the university’s performance metrics as established by the Florida Board of Governors.
“This unique opportunity affords our students cutting-edge training experiences that will provide advantages in a competitive marketplace,” Kimbrough said. “There are opportunities for just about every major.”
Several BTNC officials will also update the FAMU Board of Trustees and other higher education officials on its operations that include its content distribution contracts with Charter Communications, DIRECTV, and Dish Network. Sony is partnering with BTNC to provide equipment for its professional newsroom and to benefit students. With Charter, the launch date will present BTNC’s content into 33 million homes in markets that include New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, Detroit, Boston, Tampa, Orlando, Cleveland, Charlotte, Birmingham, Norfolk, Raleigh-Durham and New Orleans.
“There is no other network delivering in 4K in the U.S.,” said Marks, about the advanced technology that the network will debut. “We will be the first in the nation, and I am extremely proud to be a part of this network.”
FAMU SJGC students Destiny Hudson, a public relations major, and Nathan Vinson, a journalism major, said they are honored to accept the generosity of BTNC on behalf of current and future students and alumni.
Faculty, alumni, community stakeholders joined dignitaries, including Florida State Senator and FAMU public relations graduate, Bobby Powell, Jr., Willie Williams from Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s office, and Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox at the event.
Along with Watts, Marks and BTNC owner Bob Brillante, several national leaders in media and communications will provide executive leadership for the network. They include Steve Pruitt, former executive vice president of the United Negro College Fund and budget director for the U.S. House of Representatives; Frank Watson, former CBS executive, who managed two CBS flagship stations and Evan Leo, a partner with Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evens and Figel Law Firm and one of Washington, D.C.’s premier telecommunications and regulatory attorneys.