Florida-based network had shut down operations last Friday just two years after launching
By Thom Geier
Black News Channel — which shut down operations on Friday, just two years after making a splashy debut — has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Florida.
In its Monday filing, the Tallahassee-based network listed $10 million-$50 million in liabilities and estimated between 200 and 999 creditors are owed money.
“They filed for bankruptcy faster than they paid their employees the money they’re owed,” one former employee told TheWrap on Tuesday. “I received a partial payment this morning for two weeks of work. They still owe me for another week.”
That former staffer was one of roughly 230 who were let go last Friday when the channel ceased operations; the network plans to air repeats for the rest of this month.
The channel, known to viewers as BNC, was founded by former GOP congressman J.C. Watts and veteran broadcast executive Bob Brillante with a mission to provide news for and about underserved communities. Just months after the launch in February 2020, Brillante was ousted and Princell Hair joined BNC as CEO in the fall of 2020. Hair added several hours of daily live programming, eventually launched a short-lived streaming channel, and hired hundreds of employees.
The hiring spree came as Shad Khan, the billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, injected a reported $50 million dollars into the network and became the principal investor. Despite the infusion of cash, insiders told TheWrap little of it was used for marketing. Instead, BNC’s management team looked to the media to get the word out, including the Tallahassee Democrat, which in September 2021 published a profile of Hair with the headline: “Black News Channel thriving under new President and CEO Princell Hair.”
Twelve weeks later — in December 2021 — the network began laying off dozens of employees.
BNC was also hit with a class-action lawsuit filed by 13 former and current female employees alleging discrimination and a “sexist” workplace (executives denied the accusations).
A Nielsen ratings analysis compiled by TheWrap found of 124 cable news channels in 2021, BNC came in 123rd with an average of 4,000 viewers on any given show. Fox News was No. 1 with an average 2.361 million primetime viewers each evening.
Last Thursday, the network’s human resources department sent out an email saying employees would not be paid as scheduled the following day. “The March 25 payroll deposit will be delayed. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause,” said the memo from human resources VP, Nicole Collins. “We are actively working to resolve this matter quickly, and will advise you with an update as soon as possible.”
On March 25, BNC staffers learned the channel had reached the end of its journey. As employees were notified by phone that the channel was ceasing operations, Hair sent out a memo to staffers saying he was “saddened and disappointed.”
“During the past few months, we have endured very painful workforce reductions at all levels of the network as we worked to achieve our financial goal of a break-even business. This has forced all of you to do more with less, and your contributions have been remarkable,” Hair said in the memo obtained by TheWrap. “Unfortunately, due to challenging market conditions and global financial pressures, we have been unable to meet our financial goals, and the timeline afforded to us has run out.”
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.