BET Unveils New Series, Sets Repurposing Plans

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Black Entertainment Television will launch at least three original series — and pursue the rights to repurpose shows from sister services Showtime and UPN — during the 2002-2003 season.

At a Tuesday morning press conference, held to recap BET's performance a year after it was acquired by Viacom Inc. for $3 billion, executives said the network would look to develop synergistic programming relationships with the media giant's other services.

'SOUL FOOD' EYED

The African-American-targeted service is talking to pay programmer Showtime about repurposing the popular Soul Food, said vice president of entertainment programming and network operations Curtis Gadson. It's also in repurposing talks with broadcaster UPN.

"We have entered into conversations about Showtime and UPN properties, but we have not completed any deals yet," Gadson said.

In the past, Showtime executives have doused discussions about repurposing Soul Food. If the program ran on basic cable, Showtime has said, the move would compromise the pay network's value to its African-American subscribers.

The network referred the latest Soul Food
repurposing inquiries to distributor Paramount Studios, which said it was premature to discuss any deals. Showtime has said it would be open to offering older episodes of the series to BET, as well as other outlets.

Representatives from UPN, which offers such African-American-centric shows as Girlfriends
and The Parkers, could not be reached for comment at press time.

BET has also talked with Viacom's Nickelodeon about creating a kids-targeted programming block from the latter's shows.

"It's part of our strategy to work synergistic deals with our sister and brother networks at Viacom," Gadson said.

Nick has several African-American-oriented shows in its stable, including the Bill Cosby-produced Little Bill, and such library fare as Gullah Gullah Island.
Nick representatives would not comment on the matter.

The three original half-hour series slated to air in September are Cheryl and Friends, a talk show hosted by comedian Cheryl Underwood; Grilled, a variety show; and Table 12, a reality program that examines real people's experiences while dining in a shopping-mall food court.

BROADBAND BIDS

Gadson said the network is working on several other original shows that will be disclosed at a later date.

BET also intends to launch a broadband initiative through its BET.com Web site that will help operators tout high-speed Internet service.

As part of the new campaign — "Get It Now, Get It Fast" — broadband visitors to BET.com will be able to download exclusive movies and music videos through an agreement struck between BET and Def Jam Records, said BET executive vice president of marketing and communications Kelli Lawson.

VOD COMING

The network will also formalize a video-on-demand and subscription VOD offerings that will take advantage of the emerging technologies, according to senior vice president of affiliate sales Lee Chaffin. Operators have expressed interest in offering BET's original programming via VOD, he said, particularly the news shows BET News
and BET Tonight.

"[BET News] runs at 11 p.m., when most viewers's local news comes on, so there's value in offering those programs on a VOD basis when people can watch it at their leisure," Chaffin said. "When you look at that and other programming we offer, we feel that we can offer operators value."

He would not say if BET would charge for VOD programming, and added that the network is still evaluating all of its options.

"We'll do all that we can to support the operators' business, but at the same time, this is a business for us as well," said Chaffin. "It will work out to be a win-win for all involved."

The new developments come on the heels of a successful year for the network, in terms of performance. Through February 2002, BET was the No. 1-rated cable network in African-American households, besting Home Box Office, Showtime and Lifetime Television, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.

Its 0.3 primetime rating for May, however, was flat compared to a year ago.

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