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FAMU signs partnership agreement on creation of Black Television News Channel

(March 25, 2014) Florida A&M University, one of the nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities, has signed on to a partnership with the Black Television News Channel (BTNC) making the university home to the nation's only Black-owned cable news network.

The network will be operated and managed at the School of Journalism and Graphic Communications building by co-founding partners: former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts; Robert "Bob" Brillante, a 30-year cable TV veteran and founder of Florida's News Channel; Frank Watson, a 30-year broadcast industry veteran; former U.S. House of Representatives Budget Director Steve Pruitt and Evan Leo, a Washington D.C. telecommunications and regulatory attorney.

The signing of the agreement is the culmination of years of planning by Watts and his partners. The 11-year contractual partnership was agreed to by FAMU's Board of Trustees earlier this month. Through the partnership, BTNC will return up to $500,000 annually to FAMU for the first three years of the network's operation and $1 million for each of the seven years remaining in the contract. The first year of the partnership will be dedicated to renovating, upgrading and installing equipment in the SJGC building, with a total price tag of $10 million. The channel is expected to begin operations in 2015.

"We're excited to be among the energy of the youth on this campus. Thank you to the FAMU family for embracing us and the idea of a 24-hour news channel that is culturally specific," said Watts. "The world only gets a sliver of who the Black community is today. We look forward to telling that story."

SJGC Dean Ann W. Kimbrough, DBA, said the contract positions FAMU to be on the cutting-edge in training future multimedia professionals. BTNC will serve as an independent manager of the school's course of study in network broadcasting and operations. FAMU students will hone their crafts through first-hand [experience] while utilizing the latest digital broadcasting technology and systems.

"We are excited about this visionary opportunity that connects our mission with that of the Black Television News Channel's goals," said Kimbrough. "This is not a singular opportunity. We see it as a multidisciplinary opportunity for our students, alumni and faculty."

FAMU presently broadcasts the student-run News 20 at Five, Monday-Thursday at 5:00 p.m. over FAMU-TV 20 the university's educational access UHF channel. FAMU-TV 20 is carried via cable television by Comcast to more than 80,000 households in North Florida and South Georgia. The news channel will be staffed with working professionals.

BTNC had earlier struck an agreement with Comcast that would carry the news channel in seven of the 10 top African American markets: Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore, Detroit and Miami.

In addition to upgrading the campus television studio to house the network, BTNC and SJGC are partnering with electronics giant SONY for state-of-the-art equipment. The building will include a network operation center, additional studio facilities, teleport(s), mobile ENG infrastructure and an automated newsroom.

VisualiZation Real Time (VizRT), an international producer of content production equipment for digital media will outfit the production area with advanced virtual reality television production assets. Other BTNC partners include: WorldLink Ventures, a global provider of multi-platform sales; financial partners Inkbridge, LLC; Enterprise Florida and the City of Tallahassee Economic Development Council.

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