BETs Rap: Five Digital Channels


Expanding its music-oriented-programming platform, Black
Entertainment Television will offer five music-based, digitally compressed channels as
part of an overall company digital-network package.

The "BET Soundz" package will include the
company's already-launched BET on Jazz: The Cable Jazz Channel service, along with
channels featuring gospel/inspirational music, rhythm and blues, hip-hop and world music
(including reggae, Latin and international music), said Lee Schaffin, national vice
president of affiliate sales and marketing for BET.

BET on Jazz will also remain as an analog service, he said.

The parent BET service, which is in 54 million households,
will remain as an analog service for the time being, but it will eventually be offered on
the digital platform, according to the network.

Schaffin declined to reveal licensing fees for the
networks, nor would he say whether operators can buy the services on an a la carte basis.
He said digital plans for the network's BET Action Pay-Per-View service will be
revealed this week at the National Show.

For now, BET will look to capitalize on its strengths in
music to offer specialized, 24-hour music-video and special-programming channels.

"The BET brand has a strong following within the
industry and with viewers, particularly in the department of music programming,"
Schaffin said. "We believe that we are innovators of delivering music, and the lack
of channels devoted to these music genres will [enable us to] provide exposure to a lot of
new artists that viewers don't see on a regular basis."

The company has had "initial" conversations with
operators about the package, although it has not struck any carriage deals. The network
believes, however, that there will be interest in the channels: Schaffin said a BET study
found that 52 percent of African-Americans would upgrade to digital if they had more
programming targeted toward them.

"We believe that this digital phase will draw
audiences both for operators and for BET," Schaffin said.

One operator in a top 10 market preparing for a digital
upgrade said the channels will help the system to sell digital boxes, particularly to its
minority viewers.

But another system programming executive said subscribers
already have a multitude of music choices from other networks. MTV Networks, for example,
will have six music-video channels, including Latin, soul and new age jazz. And TCI
Music's The Box will have as many as six video channels, including two
Spanish-language services and an "urban" channel.

Operators with digital services are also offering more than
30 channels of digital audio.