NEW YORK, NY, April 30, 2003-New York-based Bridges Network, Inc., announced today that it will launch Bridges TV, the first ever nationwide English-language Muslim television channel in North America. The expected launch date is summer 2004, pending how quickly the network can gather the 10,000 paying members necessary to demonstrate public support.
Bridges TV, which will be broadcast from Manhattan, will emphasize news stories, and talk shows, wholesome sitcoms, advice shows, children's programming and movies about Muslim life in America. Programming will mostly be created, since an English-language genre targeting American Muslims does not exist.
The venture is spearheaded by Muzzammil S. Hassan, MBA, a bank vice-president in New York and Omar S. Amanat, founder of Tradescape, an Internet brokerage firm. Mr. Amanat sold Tradescape last year to E*Trade (NYSE: ET) for $280,000,000 (million).
Amanat learned early on that even at the height of his financial success on Wall Street, public perceptions of Muslims prevented him from being fully accepted.
"I realized that the only way to undo misconceptions was to create our own media forum from which our stories and culture would be shared with the world. Other cultural groups have gained acceptance and increased understanding through the forum of media. Why can't Muslims do the same?"
Channels such as Telemundo and the Black Entertainment Television network have appealed to cultural niche markets. Bridges TV hopes to follow a similar model and create a diverse genre of programming that members of the American Muslim community can identify with. That group is composed approximately one-quarter each of South Asian, African-American, Arab and Others.
Hassan noted that most members of these groups are moderate Muslims who cannot identify with the extreme stereotypes often depicted in Hollywood productions.
"They think they are not accurately portrayed," he said. "Bridges TV gives American Muslims a voice and will depict them in everyday, real life situations."
Bridges TV differentiates itself from such foreign language programming as Zee TV (Hindi), Prime TV (Urdu) and ART TV (Arabic), which are broadcast in foreign languages and focus on life experiences in foreign countries. These channels are popular among immigrant parents, but not with their U.S. born children. "Our channel is in English and about life in America. We want a Muslim child who grows up in America to be able to watch our channel and identify with the characters, or to be engaged by the dialogue of issues pertinent to him or her," said Amanat.
Amanat added that stories that shed light on the significant contributions of American Muslims to modern science, art and entertainment remain untold and will be a focus of Bridges TV programming. The network seeks to feature sitcoms that represent American Muslim family life. The Cosby Show, which portrayed a positive representation of African-American family life, is a model for such sitcom programming.
Creation of a channel that features American Muslims comes at a time when the media spotlight is increasingly focused on this population. The channel hopes to "build bridges" of understanding by providing Muslims an opportunity to express their views and opinions about their faith and lifestyle.
Given the estimated eight million Muslims living in North America, the channel is long overdue, according to network officials. And studies sponsored by Bridges TV have found that American Muslims are willing to pay as much as $10 per month above and beyond their current cable or satellite fee for the channel.
According to a Zogby 2000 survey, at an annual growth of 6%, the American Muslim population, which at present makes a sizable market, is expected to double to 15 million in the next ten years.
Although targeted primarily at a North-American Muslim audience, company officials anticipate that Bridges TV will have some cross-over appeal to other Americans due to world-wide interest about Islam and Muslim lifestyles.
The company successfully completed its first round of fundraising last year, netting $1,000,000 (million) in seed capital from investors. Most of this initial money is being used to cover legal, filming, marketing and licensing fees. With a pledge of financial support from Amanat, the company's leading investor, the network's next main milestone is securing the 10,000 paying monthly members necessary to garner cable and satellite television support.
Initial projections are to broadcast the channel four to six hours per day. Pending advertising revenue and community support through monthly subscriptions, Bridges TV hopes to evolve into a full-time nationwide cable television channel. Their long-term goal is to gain at least 10% of American Muslim households as monthly subscribers.
So far the response from potential subscribers has been overwhelming. Over 1,000 paying members have signed up in just one month.
"An American Muslim television channel is the greatest need of our times," said Amanat. If American Muslims want to bring this kind of television programming into their home, we need their support as members -the viability of this project depends on American Muslims."
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