Washington Report

Washington's 'Mayor-For-Life' In Media Package

By William Reed

Despite Bob Johnson's abdication of the BET network, Black Americans may still have an influential voice in the nation's network broadcasting. Exit Bob Johnson, enter Armstrong Williams. As BET's Robert L. 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 Williams says "will invigorate satellite television with interactive technology."

"We want to offer viewers more than limited talk and limited views," says Williams. And, as of January 2001, the Renaissance Network's unlimited spectrum of signals begin bouncing through space, via satellite. Renaissance is a full-time 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 pretaped programming that's transmitted via satellite signal 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in what Chief Operating Officer Armstrong Williams 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 Williams calls "the premier independent network in the Americas."

Overall, the Renaissance Network is a project of an Atlanta-based maven named Vincent Castelli as CEO, and Armstrong Williams as COO. Castelli, who owns two independent TV stations, a radio venture and telecommunications company, 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's capital, including the city's former mayor, Marion Barry, Jr. Better known for his conservative commentaries and Republican affiliations, Williams has captured one of the nation's most widely-known liberal politicians to appear daily as an on-air call-in host. "Mayor Barry commands a high level of identification among African Americans. His program emphasizes the fact that we will get a significant segment of the African-American population to regularly view our programs," says Williams. He says the network addresses America's multi-cultural climate and addresses programming needs for African-American communities. "We deliver a wholesome product to our viewers, a line-up of positive, family-oriented shows," he says.

Although the network's line up will warm a conservative's heart, Williams says the projected year-end audience will number over 20 million and be comprised of a "30 percent Black American viewership." He will host two live daily programs centered on "family value" orientation. "It's a proven fact that upwards of 40 percent of Americans are classified as conservative."

It can be hard to start up a new cable network in a tight market where nearly all the players are owned by synergy-flaunting conglomerates, therefore, Williams says he expects Black Americans to be a core part of his network's audience. Playing to the growing Black market makes good sense. The Black Market can be financially lucrative to whomever effectively taps it. New Urban Entertainment and Atlanta-based Major Broadcasting Channel, are networks that will be competing for the same middle-class Blacks that Renaissance covets. To capture the number of Black households that BET had in its portfolio will require staying power. New Urban Entertainment, headed by Robert Townsend, needed an estimated $15 million in seed money, and now is shopping for a $75 million second round on the way to an eventual $200 million to go national. In the Republican capitalist tradition, Williams says "We are in the black and intend to stay that way, in our books, on-air and, hopefully, our audience."

William Reed
Who's Who in Black Corporate America
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Washington, DC 20045
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