The future of a Muslim lifestyles television station that survived its founder's murder conviction is again in question after Verizon FiOS decided to drop it from the lineup.
Bridges TV General Manager Hunaid Baliwala said Monday that Verizon has told him the station's viewership is too low and that, as of March 15, it will no longer be carried. Verizon confirmed that it's dropping Bridges TV, but noted that it is still available through the station's website.
Bridges, an English-language station intended to foster understanding between the West and Middle Eastern and South Asian religions and cultures, is carried in more than two dozen markets, including Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Detroit and Dallas. Verizon FiOS, a fiber-optic network that provides Internet, phone and TV service, is the carrier in all but a handful of cities.
"If we had known something like this was happening, we could have done things to improve," said Baliwala, who said Verizon gave the station one month's notice and has not responded to his request for viewership numbers.
Bridges TV was founded in 2004 by Muzzammil Hassan and his wife, Aasiya, as a platform to dispel negative stereotypes about Muslims. It managed to stay on the air after Hassan was convicted last year of beheading his wife in 2009. Hassan, who is in prison, has not been involved with the station since his arrest.
The station moved its headquarters from suburban Buffalo to New York City last year for better access to programming and personnel, Baliwala said, and it is in the process of upgrading its mix of news, political discussion, sports and cooking.
"We sometimes need to make changes to our FiOS TV channel lineup in order to continue offering our customers the best service possible," a statement from Verizon said. "The good news is that Bridges TV makes some of its programming available on its website."
But without Verizon as a major platform, Baliwala said important advertising revenue and the ability to reach a mainstream audience will be drastically diminished.
"We try constantly to dispel negative stereotypes and hatred that's going out there, and this effectively limits that. And so the Muslim community especially, the Middle Eastern South Asia community, lose a voice in the mainstream media," he said. "You think about all the other channels that Verizon has. None are what we are trying to do. None of them actually do what we do, so it's disappointing that they made that decision."
Although Bridges is available through a paid online subscription and recently launched on Roku's video-streaming service, the long-term effects of Verizon's decision remain to be seen, the station manager said.
In a letter to viewers last week, Bridges asked the community to support the station by contacting Verizon.
"Without a major platform," the letter said, "Bridges TV may have to shut down."