|Despite Robert L. Johnson's abdication of the BET network, black Americans may still have an influential voice in the nation's network broadcasting. As Johnson walks out of ownership of the nation's first black-owned network, Armstrong Williams is walking into a $2.5 million minority ownership stake in the Renaissance Network, a broadcasting medium that Williams says "will invigorate satellite television with interactive technology. We want to offer viewers more than limited talk and limited views."
Beginning this month, an unlimited spectrum of signals will begin bouncing from this state-of-the-art cable, broadcast and internet program provider that offers special and live interactive programming. The network's fare is a mix of live, original and pre-taped programming transmitted via satellite signal 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in what Williams, Renaissance's Chief Operating Officer, calls "hundreds of markets across the Western Hemisphere." The network, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has "cutting edge technology," and is currently comprised of over 50 independent stations that Williams calls "the premier independent network in the Americas."
The Renaissance Network is headed by Vincent Castelli, an Atlanta-based maven who owns two independent TV stations, a radio venture and telecommunications company. The CEO initiated Renaissance after the $23 million liquidation buyout of the old America's Voice channel.
The venture has attracted some of the most sought-after voices in the nation, including Marion Barry, Jr. The District's former mayor, one of the nation's most widely-known liberal politicians, will appear daily as an on-air call-in host. "Mayor Barry commands a high level of identification among African Americans. His program emphasis the fact that we will get a significant segment of the African-American population to regularly view our programs," says Williams.
Although Barry stands in sharp contrast to Williams' more conservative commentaries and Republican affiliations, the network's line-up will warm a conservative's heart with Williams hosting two live daily programs centered on "family values." "It's a proven fact that upwards of 40 percent of Americans are classified as conservative," he said.
While Williams expects black Americans to be a core part of his network's audience, so too do New Urban Entertainment and Atlanta-based Major Broadcasting Channel, two other networks that will be competing for the same middle-class blacks that Renaissance covets. Each will require staying power if they are to capture the number of black households that BET had in its portfolio. New Urban Entertainment, headed by Robert Townsend, needed an estimated $15 million in seed money, and is now shopping for a $75 million second round on the way to an estimated $200 million to go national. In the Republican capitalist tradition, Williams says of Renaissance, "We are in the black and intend to stay that way, in our books, on-air and, hopefully, our audience."
William Reed is the author of "Who's Who in Black Corporate America." He may be reached at 2054 National Press Building, Washington, DC 20045; 202-547-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org