PHILADELPHIA -- The nation's first free broadcast network targeting African-American audiences arrived in the nation's fourth-largest media market on Thursday.
Atlanta-based Bounce TV is an over-the-air free channel supported by sponsors and is geared toward black viewers ages 25 to 54. Unlike cable channels, Bounce TV is one of a growing number of networks carried on the broadcast digital signals of local television stations.
Bounce TV executives – among them Martin Luther King III and former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador Andrew Young – said the new network's targeted demographic is vastly underserved and hungers for positive programming that speaks to them.
"I believe that a network, while its primary purpose is entertainment, can have a balance so that there is information or education, or `edutainment,' that is created by certain content," King said at a news conference Thursday to publicize Bounce TV's launch on Lenfest Broadcasting's WMCN-TV in Philadelphia, ranked by the Nielsen Co. as the No. 4 media market after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
The popular cable network BET, or Black Entertainment Television, focuses on a 25-and-under demographic with a heavy rotation of hip-hop videos that have alienated many older viewers. The cable networks TV One, owned primarily by Radio One and Comcast, and Centric, a two-year-old BET spin-off, also court the over-25 niche but Bounce TV officials said there is plenty of room for growth – especially in the non-cable realm.
According to Nielsen's latest annual television audience report, African American households with televisions watch an average of 46.5 hours of TV every week. By comparison, the weekly average is 34.1 hours for U.S. households overall and 29.3 hours for Hispanic households.
Since launching in a handful of markets Sept. 26 with an inaugural showing of the 1978 movie-musical "The Wiz," the network has made deals with broadcast station groups that include Fox, Gannett, Raycom Media, Belo Corp. and Meredith Broadcasting.
Bounce TV is live or coming to more than two dozen cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans and Washington D.C. Network executives said Bounce TV is in markets representing more than 70 percent of African American households. Network executives said the name comes from an expression in the African American community to "bounce on over" somewhere, meaning to move forward with energy and enthusiasm.
Bounce has reached licensing agreements with NBC, Sony and others to offer hundreds of movies traditionally popular with black audiences, from "Do the Right Thing" to "Ray," and "Mo' Better Blues." The round-the-clock programming also features children's shows, gospel music, reruns of TV series such as "Soul Train" and "Backstage Pass," plus live football and basketball games from historically black colleges and universities.
Original programming and live concerts are on deck for early next year, and talks are under way to bring the network to Comcast Cable early next year, Bounce executives said.
"There is definitely room in the TV landscape for an African American-targeted over-the-air digital network like Bounce," said longtime TV-industry analyst and researcher Shari Anne Brill. "For those African American homes that don't have access to cable TV, Bounce offers a programming alternative that doesn't really exist anywhere else."
"I believe the network will be here to stay especially because of the people associated with it," she added.
Households not subscribing to paid cable or satellite television have a growing number of options. Bounce TV is among more than 20 digital networks that can be accessed over the air, from the majors NBC, NBC, CBS, PBS and Fox to Telemundo, Univision, Ion and Create. A regional broadcast network for black audiences, Song of the South, is slated to go live next year in several southern states.
"It'll be interesting to see how this goes," said media analyst Brad Adgate of Horizon Media. "They should go for slow and steady growth. They won't become a hit overnight because it's already too crowded and congested out there."
Though there appears to be a dearth of black-oriented networks, the entertainment landscape is much broader in an era of tablet computers, DVRs, on-demand, free online content on Hulu and YouTube, and streaming subscription sites like Netflix. That makes it tougher for any network to get established, he said.
Adgate said 12 percent of black households in the U.S. do not receive TV programming from cable, satellite or broadband operators. The overall national average is 10 percent.