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The More, The Merrier (?): Bounce TV and an “Under-Served” Community

Yesterday morning, while flipping through the channels, I came across a commercial advertising Bounce TV,
a new African American-owned digital television network set to debut on Monday, September 26. Bounce TV is spearheaded by some rather well-known figures, including Martin Luther King III and former American ambassador and Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. The network will feature “a programming mix of theatrical motion pictures, sporting events, documentaries, specials, inspirational faith-based programs, off-network series, original programming and more.”

Admittedly, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I recognize the value of having a network that features black programming, particularly when network television has proven incapable of sustaining a black-helmed series in recent years.  In a media landscape dominated by large corporations and with few non-white network owners, it is certainly understandable that King, Young, et al. felt a need to create their own network. Furthermore, given that Bounce TV will be available via antenna, it will reach homes without cable, thus somewhat justifying Young’s claims that the network will “deliver free programming for our under-served community.”

However, therein lies the rub: At this point, is the African American community somehow “under-served” by television–particularly when there are a host of networks–BET, Centric, TV One, Starz in Black, to name a few–that now cater primarily to African American audiences? That is not to even mention the host of other networks like Bravo, MTV, and VH-1 where reality shows featuring predominantly African American casts proliferate or networks such as Antenna TV and TVLand, both of which frequently broadcast classic sitcoms such as The Cosby Show, Good Times, and Sanford & Son.

Of course, one certainly could argue that African American audiences are being under-served in terms of quality, not quantity. Undoubtedly, network television has failed viewers, especially when one considers that none of the major broadcast networks–ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, or NBC–currently feature an African American lead character (though, in fairness, there are shows such as America’s Got Talent hosted by African Americans). Cable networks fare better in terms of quantity; however, aesthetically, much of BET and TV One’s programming leaves much to be desired. A review of the schedules of both networks reveals a host of reality shows (mostly star vehicles such as The Ultimate Merger, a dating show featuring model Tocarra Jones), a mix of classic sitcoms along with many failed former network sitcoms, and a similar mix of well-known films and low budget, independent films. While both networks feature a few gems (such as TV One’s Unsung series) that break from the normal fare, for the most part, each of the black-owned or black-themed networks mirror each other (and their network counterparts, for that matter).

Thus, one would hope that Bounce TV could offer viewers something that its predecessors do not. However, like most fledgling networks (and its predecessor BET), it is starting off with a schedule that features reruns of cancelled series (including Judge Hatchett, which was cancelled in 2008), widely syndicated educational series geared towards teenagers, a syndicated black college sports review show, a gospel music showcase, and films. In short, nothing that one already can get elsewhere.

Are my expectations and desires too great for a new network? Perhaps so. It is certainly my hope that, with time, Bounce TV will diversify its offerings and provide viewers with strong, innovative original programming. However, as it stands, I have to question to what degree a network that mirrors its contemporaries really provides much to those who are seemingly “under-served.”

(Photo taken from BounceTV.com)


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