With the proliferation of Black TV networks — partly as a result of Com-cast/NBC Universal’s backing a number of minority start ups following diversity pressure from lawmakers like Rep. Maxine Waters — it’s shaping up to be a competitive fight for survival.
The field includes Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, Aspire TV (Magic Johnson), Revolt (P Diddy), Legacy TV (Byron Allen) and Bounce TV (Andrew Young and Martin Luther King III).
They, of course, are going up against TV One and the 800 pound Gorilla, BET.
That might be a daunting task for some, but not entrepreneur Joseph Collins, a South Central native and founder of the Signal Hill/Long Beach-based Punch TV Network.
Collins, 49, who got his start at a local TV station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has spent 30 years in the industry, producing over 600 TV commercials and was presented the 1996 Entrepreneur of the Year Award by Senators Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Fred Aguilar.
According to Collins, Punch, which symbolizes the melting pot of a punch bowl, is currently on 42 stations nationwide and is in its second year on air.
“The actual concept for the the network came five years ago and it took us three years before we launched and go on the air,” he explained. “Punch TV is like this mixture of all different cultures and different nationalities, all from an urban perspective, not necessarily African-American.
“What happened is that hip hop has really changed the nature of urban culture; you have Asian kids beat boxing, riding down the street with their loud music playing and you would never have imagined someone of Asian descent doing that.”
He added: “I wanted to design a TV network to be able to speak to that audience and be able to connect and tell stories for that audience.”
With affiliates in Alabama, Alaska, California (Los Angeles —KTAV Channel 35.6), Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Puerto Rico, Texas and Washington, Punch’s programming is a mix of talk shows, movies, women’s interest, sports and children’s shows. The line up includes original programming and content from independent producers.
“We produce a lot of original programs ourselves,” he added. “There’s a love story about a woman in her 60′s who falls in love with a young man in his late 30′s and then there’s a Black History Month show that dispels myths about our history. In terms of the content, the fact that I’ve been in production for a long time I had a lot of relationships and had a big span of people we could call on, people who wanted to get their projects out there.”
As you might expect, creating a network from scratch takes some financial muscle and Collins noted that Punch is a publicly-traded company. “We spent under $10 million to get here, which is a pretty high dollar figure. We’re still growing, still building and we’re hungry and want to change the world. The growth rates have been phenomenal, we’ve grown from 7 to 60 million households in less than a year. We’re hoping to get the community to become part owners in Punch by investing in our over the counter stock.”
The would be mogul certainly believes the time is right.
“The TV industry is really worried about networks like ours because people realize they can get about 70 or 80 more free channels and they don’t have to pay a cable bill and they still high def, quality stuff,” he maintained. “There’s a big movement now where people are cutting the cord; cutting their cable, dish and Direct TV bills. If it’s a choice between paying the cable and the light bill, our audience is probably going to want to pay the latter.”
Meanwhile, as for the competition, Collins alludes to the greatest ever underdog.
“Ali had to start somewhere and nobody thought he had a chance,” said Punch’s main man. “I tell people the same thing…I’m gonna float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. There’s nobody who knows more about TV than me.”