A new Muslim-oriented cable television network is scheduled to begin broadcasting from Buffalo Tuesday, weaving news coverage with dramas and children’s shows, classic movies and programs about food travel and culture.
Bridges TV is believed to be the first English-language cable station aimed at the rapidly growing Muslim demographic. Its founder and chief executive, Muzzammil Hassan, hopes the network will help balance negative portrayals of Muslims that have dominated American media since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“The name ‘Bridges TV’ is to build bridges with mainstream America,” he said. “The very purpose of Bridges is to build bridges of friendship and understanding.”
Unlike Al-Jazeera or other controversial networks beamed from predominantly Muslim countries, Bridges TV is “more of a cultural, lifestyle and entertainment network,” said Hassan, 40, a former bank vice president. “It’s not a religious or political network. Our focus is life right here in North America.”
Programming will be delivered nationwide via a fiber-optic link from the Buffalo studios of WNED-TV to a satellite provider in Staten Island. Shows include a soap opera featuring a Muslim father confronted with his daughter’s desire to marry a non-Muslim, and “Allah Made Me Funny,” which chronicles a Muslim comedy tour. The premiere broadcast will be a noon newscast Tuesday, anchored by Asad Mahmood, a former producer at the NBC affiliate in Boston.
Bridges anticipates 50,000 initial subscribers. It has carriage agreements with Comcast Cable Co. in Detroit, home to a large American Muslim population, and with Buckeye Cable, a smaller firm that serves northern Ohio and southern Michigan. The network also is available by GlobeCast satellite and by broadband television. It costs $14.99 as a premium channel.
The nightly news program will air at 7:30 p.m. weekdays with “an unbiased view of what’s going on in the world from an Islamic perspective,” said program director Jamilah Fraser.
The venture has $5 million to $10 million in backing from more than 50 investors, all of them from the United States. Hassan sold investors on key demographics for the nation’s estimated 7 million Muslims. At 6.2 percent per year, their growth rate far outpaces that of the total U.S. population, which is less than 1 percent per year. American Muslims’ average annual household income is $11,000 more than the overall U.S. average, and more American Muslims have bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees, according to census data and a 2002 study by Cornell University.
Hassan believes that Bridges TV taps into an unserved market akin to the Hispanic market that Univision and Telemundo plugged into nearly 20 years ago. Telemundo, a U.S. Spanish-speaking network with 32 million subscribers, was sold to NBC for $2.7 billion in 2001. Univision is the country’s fifth-most-watched network.