OWN: Not the First Black-Led Network

Now that her new network, OWN, is officially on the air, Oprah Winfrey joins a long line of black entrepreneurs who have launched their own cable networks -- with varying success.

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  • Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)

    Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)

    The publisher, producer, television host, philanthropist and billionaire multimedia entrepreneur launched the Oprah Winfrey Network, with partner Discovery Communications, at noon on Jan. 1, 2011. Leading cable and satellite companies will distribute OWN, through which Winfrey pledges to “entertain, inform and inspire people to live their best lives,” 24-7. Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Suze Orman joined Winfrey on her launch day as she unveiled a host of uplifting, health-driven shows.

    Captions by Frank McCoy

  • Urban Broadcast Universal Television (UBU)

    Urban Broadcast Universal Television (UBU)

    Walter Morgan is persistent. UBU is the ex-entertainment agent and studio executive’s third attempt to build a black network. He co-founded the Urban America TV Network (2001-2006) and helmed the American Independent Network from 1999 to 2001, when it merged into the Hispanic Television Network. The Harvard M.B.A. and Princeton graduate says that UBU begins broadcasting in June 2011 and will focus on African-American and multiethnic, urban American culture. 

  • Black Television News Channel (BTNC)

    Black Television News Channel (BTNC)

    Former U.S. Congressman and ex-University of Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts Jr. may be just the person to launch an economic touchdown pass in 2011, when BTNC begins operating 24-7. Then again, its website says that the network, which was reportedly allied with Comcast, was supposed to have gone live in 2009 and 2010. This launch appears to be on an indefinite delay.

  • Black Entertainment Television (BET)

    Black Entertainment Television (BET)

    From 1980 until 2000, Robert L. Johnson used the nation’s first black-owned cable television network — maligned as much as celebrated — to create, buy or produce a raft of multimedia products. In 1990 BET’s initial public offering attracted $72 million. Ten years later, Viacom paid Johnson $3 billion for BET. Today Johnson’s RLJ Companies include hotel real estate, private equity, consumer financial services, asset management, and sports and entertainment investments.

  • TV One

    TV One

    In 2004 Cathy Hughes, founder of Radio One, Inc., whose 53 stations target African-American and urban listeners, and her son, Alfred Liggins, joint-ventured with Comcast Corp., the black-owned equity firms Syndicated Communications and Opportunity Capital Partners, and white investors to create TV One. Its goal is to create original content or buy developed programming that provides “a sophisticated alternative for adult African-American viewers.” 

  • Black Family Channel/MBC Network

    Black Family Channel/MBC Network

    Only the home page for successful lawyer Willie Gary’s television venture still exists. Gary, along with black partners such as Evander Holyfield and Robert Townsend, founded the network in 1999 as the Major Broadcasting Cable network. Its focus was on families, HBCU sports, children’s programming and gospel ministries. Limited cable and satellite distribution hindered BFC’s growth, and in 2007 the GMC (Gospel Music Channel) paid an undisclosed sum for the network.

  • Urban Television Network

    Urban Television Network

    Five years ago Robert Johnson, the co-founder of BET, filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission to begin creating another television network targeting African Americans and Hispanics through the use of new and acquired programming. But there’s no launch date in sight — a spokesperson says that there has been no recent “movement or any action” by the FCC on Johnson’s request.

  • The Africa Channel (TAN)

    The Africa Channel (TAN)

    Co-founded in 2005 by Zimbabwean James Makawa, the Africa Channel features thousands of videos licensed from African broadcasters. Its cable distributors are Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and Cox. A spokesperson says that the growing company will achieve profitability in 2011, and that last summer it launched an HD network with Time Warner Cable in the New York area. The network’s investors include ex-NBA star Dikembe Mutombo.