Bounce TV: More of the Same

With TV One and BET doing the same thing -- and more -- who will watch the new black channel?


On Sept. 26, a new black network, Bounce TV, launched showing an old Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Nipsey Russell movie, The Wiz. Bounce did not attract much attention because Bounce is available only via over-the-air digital television. While television viewers overwhelmingly receive their TV signals via cable or satellite, the FCC has mandated that new televisions be equipped with digital over-the-air tuners, through which users can watch traditional networks as well as some new channels. And it's all free.

That's how I encountered Bounce. Our household long ago abandoned cable for an ever-widening array of free or moderately priced programming sources using TV or computers that include not only over-the-air digital but also Hulu, Netflix or AT&T U-verse. As I was watching television on a digital channel one afternoon, an ad for Bounce popped up: There were Andrew Young, Martin Luther King III and others on the screen declaring "TV our way" and announcing that Bounce would soon be on the air.

Few would disagree that despite the steady, though slow, integration of blacks into mainstream shows, television, like Hollywood, remains pretty much a wasteland for blacks, Latinos and others (and a good case can be made that it does serious mind damage to whites, too).

Everything Old Is New Again?

I was eager to embrace Bounce. A few days of watching, however, led me to the conclusion that it is bouncing in -- to be kind -- an uncertain direction. Reruns of the old Soul Train music-and-dance show, Backstage Pass and the long-running syndicated show Inside the Game, about black sports at HBCUs, are in the schedule.

Movies form the heart of Bounce's programming. Its lineup -- which includes the Mr. T vehicle Straight Line, Mariah Carey's Glitter, Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and Mo' Better Blues, Black Gunn, Walk, Far From Heaven, Sunset Park, Stir Crazy, Another You and Glory -- mostly falls short of fulfilling the promise of "blockbuster hits" and "classic favorites." You could argue that the nonblack Scarface or any Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry film was a bigger hit among black people than some of these films., which follows black trends, reports that Bounce has made deals with NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, Sony Pictures Television, Codeblack Entertainment and Image Entertainment to acquire TV rights to 400 African-American-oriented films. The only source of original content on Bounce will be broadcasts of Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association football and basketball games.

Old Judge Hatchett shows are offered, too, and while in my quirky way I actually like her courtroom judicial melodramas, I don't have to go to Bounce TV to see her.

I note this with disappointment, but what was striking about the debut of Bounce Television, and what remains true almost two months after its launch, is its total lack of creativity. Like BET and TV One -- although both established networks produce far more original shows than Bounce -- it has opted for the easy route. And while that makes a certain kind of business sense, it is hardly TV the way we want it. It is, instead, TV the way it has always been, albeit in blackface.

In Search of a Key Demographic