BET Study Seeks Ad-Gap Bridge

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Black Entertainment Television may not be basic-cable's highest-rated channel, but the service is looking to prove that the buying habits of its African-American audience should drive more advertising revenue into its coffers.

Last week, BET commissioned NsightsWorldwide LLC and TNS/NFO WorldGroup to conduct a consumer-marketing research project. The aim: to raise advertisers' level of understanding about African-American consumers.

BET, which has long complained that it garners less in ad revenue than cable services that generate similar ratings, said it hopes the results of the study will help foster ad-revenue parity between BET and other basic-cable networks.

“That [disparity] is only the symptom of the bigger problem,” said BET president of broadcast media sales Louis Carr. “The bigger problem is that marketers still don't understand the overall value of the consumer, their spending, their lifestyles and their cultural habits.”

BET believes its African-American viewers are trendsetters when it comes to buying everything from cell phones and clothing to athletic shoes, said Carr, so advertisers should pay the network more money to reach such influential consumers.

“There is a consumer and a trendsetter that everyone follows. That consumer happens to be black, and that happens to be BET viewers,” Carr added.

To prove that point, Carr said researchers would ask African-Americans questions about their spending habits, and whether their friends and family emulate their buying decisions. The study, which will be based on a sample of 2,500 consumers aged 12 to 49, will also analyze the socioeconomic status of the respondents, along with educational background, geographical location and the other television networks they watch.

Carr said researchers would also ask respondents how advertising affects their buying decisions.

BET plans to release the results of the study before its upfront presentation for advertisers in April, Carr said.

When Viacom Inc. announced plans to purchase BET in 2000, company executives said they hoped to create parity between BET and other basic-cable networks, in terms of ad revenue.

Carr said BET has narrowed that ad gap, but work remains to be done. “It has improved, but it's not where it should be,” Carr said. “There's probably not one [advertising] category that I can say BET is getting a fair share of dollars, based on the consumers that category represents.”

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