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FAMU Forges Historic Partnership with BTNC to Launch Nations Only Black Owned Cable News Network

Florida A&M University (FAMU) has etched a place for itself in the history of news television.

The FAMU School of Journalism & Graphic Communication (SJGC) has received approval from the FAMU Board of Trustees to enter into an 11-year contractual partnership that will position FAMU to be the home of a 24-hour, multi-platform news network.

The network has been named the Black Television News Channel (BTNC) and its mission is to produce intelligent programming that is informative, educational, entertaining, inspiring and empowering to the black viewing audience.

The network will be operated and managed at the SJGC building by co-founding partners: former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts; Robert Brillante, a 30-year cable TV veteran and founder of Florida’s News Channel; Frank Watson, a 30-year broadcast industry veteran; former U.S. House of Representatives Budget Director Steve Pruitt and Evan Leo, one of Washington D.C.’s premier telecommunications and regulatory attorneys.

According to the BTNC executive summary, the partnership will fill a void left by 18 black-owned and operated full-power television networks that have ceased to exist over the last two decades. This marks BTNC as the only cable television network in the U.S. fully-dedicated to broadcasting news that will be culturally specific to the African American community.

The network will also serve as an economic powerhouse for FAMU and the North Florida region, as the Florida State University Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis reports that BTNC is slated to generate $33.6 million in economic stimulus annually. The Center also reports that the establishment of the BTNC at FAMU will initially create at least 117 new jobs and 226 jobs in total, which translates to nearly $10.5 million in combined employee compensation and proprietary income.

The partnership also includes a promise by BTNC to return up to $500,000 annually to the university for the first three years of the network’s operation and $1 million for each of the seven years remaining in the contract. The first year of the partnership will be dedicated to renovating, upgrading and installing equipment in the SJGC building, with a total price tag of $10 million.

The contract positions FAMU to be on the cutting-edge when it comes to training future multimedia professionals, as the partnership names BTNC as an independent manager of the school’s course of study in network broadcasting and operations. FAMU students will have the opportunity to hone their crafts through first-hand learning experiences with the latest digital broadcasting technology and systems. Career counseling, internship opportunities and job placement are also keystones of the agreement.

According to SJGC Dean Ann W. Kimbrough, DBA, the partnership with BTNC will be transformative for the university-at-large.

“This is not a singular opportunity. We see it as a multidisciplinary opportunity for our students, alumni and faculty,” said Kimbrough, who noted that the BTNC partnership would elevate the technical expertise of the school’s faculty and the university's ability to attract high-quality journalism students from around the globe.

According to Pruitt, FAMU was selected to serve as the home of BTNC because the SJGC is “ready to go.”

“We were looking for a project site that fit the ready to go status,” Pruitt said. “We felt that [the FAMU SJGC] fit that bill best. Secondly, because of the quality of the school and the journalism program you have here, we felt we could put your students on air both nationally and internationally.”

SONY has also agreed to participate in the SJGC/BTNC partnership. The electronics giant will equip the SJCG building with a network operation center, additional studio facilities, teleport(s), mobile ENG infrastructure and an automated newsroom.

VisualiZation Real Time (VizRT), an international producer of content production equipment for digital media will outfit the production area with advanced virtual reality television production assets. Other BTNC partners include: WorldLink Ventures, a global leader in multi-platform sales and financial partners Inkbridge, LLC, Enterprise Florida and the City of Tallahassee Economic Development Council.

According to Robinson, the BTNC venture will help FAMU continue its efforts to be a dominant force in producing professionals that can face the unique challenges and expectations of today’s workforce.

“[This partnership] allows us to be more successful in preparing our students to be competitive in the workforce. It also allows us to be more competitive in recruiting in the workforce,” Robinson said.

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