Johnson Stresses Content and New Distribution Model

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MARINA DEL REY, Calif. — OTT channels can succeed in today’s fragmented content world, BET Networks founder Robert Johnson said.

“You just got to build a better mouse trap,” Johnson told R. Thomas Umstead, senior content producer for MCN, during a keynote at the OTT & Video Summit. “You just got to create more compelling content. You got to tell stories that haven’t been told. You got to find those creative people who can produce stories.”

Johnson is no stranger to telling stories.

In 1980, he launched BET. After selling BET to Viacom in 2001, Johnson, who said he didn’t want to “close up shop and go away,” turned his focus to the RLJ Companies, a business network that includes RLJ Entertainment. RLJ Entertainment has a heavy presence in the digital content space with OTT networks, including the African-American targeted Urban Movie Channel and Acorn TV, featuring TV comedies and dramas from the U.K. Investor AMC Networks last week reached a definitive agreement to acquire a controling stake in RLJ Entertainment, for $65 million.

”The industry in my opinion has to find a new model, and that model might be a la carte,” Johnson said. Cable channels, particularly ones with narrow markets, will have some tough decisions going forward.

Johnson said he doesn’t think cable operators will disappear. “As long as cable can provide internet service, it’s got a role to play,” he said. “But for cable subscribers, they are going to become the decision makers about what they watch and what they are willing to pay.”

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