BET Taps Wireless Market

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Black Entertainment Television is going mobile. BET will make available original content and music videos to wireless phone users in first quarter 2006 as part of a major mobile initiative that is expected to ring up incremental revenue for the African American-targeted network.

The Viacom-owned service will look to take advantage of the $5 billion wireless phone content business by offering branded video, ring tones and gaming content for consumers on a per-download basis, according to network executive vice president and chief financial officer Scott Mills.

“There’s no one in the business that programs urban content as persistently and to as broad an audience as BET,” Mills said. “Given that urban content is the dominant content in the wireless space, we’re uniquely well-suited to market and promote that content.”

BET Mobile currently has deals with Cingular/AT&T, Sprint Nextel Corp.’s Sprint PCS service and T-Mobile, representing nearly 90 million subscribers, and expects to reach agreements with Verizon Wireless, Sprint’s Nextel unit and Alltel Corp. by first quarter 2006, according to Mills.

The network will roll out short-form video programming to mobile phones within the next four months, although it’s unclear exactly what artists or original programming will be available.

“We also expect to work with third-party content providers that are interested in distributing their videos,” Mills said.

In the interim, BET will offer ring tones and text-to-tone services based on music videos from their popular music video shows 106 & Park and Rap City. Ringtone content will carry a suggested retail rate of $2.99, with BET-branded graphics content available for $1.99. Later this month, BET plans to roll alert services that will provide music and breaking news delivered directly to the mobile phones. In January, the network is expected to offer more socially targeted services like in-community gaming and dating services to mobile phone users.

Mills said the network is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the burgeoning mobile business, noting that African-Americans over index in the purchase of phone features such as ring tones, graphics and games.

To promote the services, the network will run ads within its 106 & Park and Rap City shows, as well as ad “bugs” over music videos throughout the telecasts.

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