BET Targets Obama Demo


Viacom’s BET wants to draw more of the older, affluent African-American audience also prized by newer rivals, such as Comcast-backed TV One.

BET hopes to get there with the new programming and with a proposed new channel — Centric — that could take over existing channel slots used by BET J and MTV Networks’ digital outlet VH1 Soul. BET officials wouldn’t spell out how they would achieve their stated base of 45 million subscribers when it launches in October.

BETN president and chief operating officer Scott Mills would only say BETN and MTVN “will work very closely with our affiliate partners to hopefully achieve this [distribution] goal.”

BET J, though, was not part of BET’s upfront presentation to advertisers here last Thursday night, and several BET J programs, including interview program Leading Men, were showcased as content for Centric.

The 89 million-subscriber BET plans new family and empowerment-tinged reality shows and news programming to bring in 25-to-54-year-old viewers, expanding beyond the core 18-to-34-year-old African-Americans it also wants to retain.

BET Networks CEO Debra Lee said President Obama’s election as the first African-American U.S. chief executive provides the impetus to shift strategy toward reaching an older audience that’s becoming more appealing to advertisers.

“BET’s reinvigorated approach is built on supporting families, embracing and encouraging their dreams, focusing on the issues that are important to them and presenting the freshest talent and entertainment,” she said.

Centric, with new originals and shows from Viacom’s MTV Networks services including MTV and VH1, will launch in October with 45 million subscribers, BET says.

Paxton Baker, executive vice president and general manager of BETN’s 27-million subscriber channel BET J, will be in charge.

BETN officials disputed an earlier Multichannel News report that there were plans for BET J and VH1 Soul, with about 20 million subscribers, to combine distribution. Those two networks are complementary in terms of key distributors: BET J brings DirecTV and Time Warner Cable carriage, while African-American-aimed VH1 Soul brings Comcast subscribers.

BETN and MTVN would need distributors to agree to switch to Centric. Affiliate officials representing cable operators said last week they had not been contacted about distribution for the new network yet.

Centric will initially feature entertainment/reality fare, but Baker said it could offer some news and public-affairs programming in the near future.

Some original shows already slated for Centric include Model City, a reality show about male African-American models in New York City; and Keeping Up With the Joneses, about a Houston-based woman entrepreneur.

Centric also will revive the Soul Train Music Awards, off the air for several years. “The Soul Train brand resonates with older audiences, so by bringing that back we can really speak to that target audience of African-Americans,” Mills said.

Borrowed fare from MTVN will include MTV’s Run’s House and VH1’s I Wanna Work For Diddy. “We think that we have a unique way of serving that [25-to-54-year-old African-American] demo that no one else can in the space,” Baker said.

Johnathan Rodgers, CEO of Comcast and Radio One-owned TV One, a four-year-old network with about 47 million subscribers, said there was certainly room in the African-American viewing community for more than two or three channels.

“I guess they were just waiting for us to prove the case,” Rodgers said.

The category already was poised to grow. Robert Johnson, who founded BET in 1979 and sold it to Viacom for $3 billion in 2000, is working with Ion Media Networks on an entertainment service called Urban Television, seeking digital broadcast and cable carriage. Former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts has announced plans for a service called the Black Television News Channel and has secured a “hunting license” for carriage on Comcast.

Other planned services include Black Broadcasting Network and hip-hop mogul Master P (Percy Miller)’s Better Black Television, a family-friendly network.

BET’s new fare include The Mo’nique Show, a new nightly talk show starring the popular actress; Crews Control, a reality series following actor Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris) and his family; and Monica: Still Standing, a docudrama about the Grammy Award-winning artist as she balances family life and a musical career.