JANUARY 2010 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:
* Bold denotes programming change
The BET Monday - Friday schedule has firmed up, typically airing a movie each night at 8, with original programming or encores running at 10. Premiere nights for new series are usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays with plenty of encores scattered irregularly throughout the rest of the week. Sunday night usually hosts a mix of programming, including movies, original series encores, news specials and encores of specials.
JANUARY 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / January 2010 vs. January 2009 (% Change)
*Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
After a lackluster December, BET recovered for the start of 2010 by pulling women back in. CELEBRATION OF GOSPEL, the last two episodes of MONICA: STILL STANDING and strong movies helped move the women 18-49 ratings needle to a 23% improvement over last month, and a 12% improvement over last year, while men 18-49 were relatively flat to down.
A year ago BET started pruning the dead wood to renew the schedule, making the basic and obvious changes that were needed. With President Obama inaugurated into the White House the network also showed a commitment to political and social coverage, giving the network a credible voice. The moves paid off in the ratings as BET grew slowly and steadily throughout the year.
BET's programming showed a definite preference for female skewing programming this past year. Programs like BET COMICVIEW and AMERICAN GANGSTER were dropped. A more subtle yet driving change was the movie selection - the female skewing titles dominated (Tyler Perry), while male skewing titles were less common. Women 18-49 ratings for movies were 25% higher this January vs. last January. That is a huge shift considering that movies account for more than half of the primetime line-up. And that change helped the flow into the 10PM female skewing music reality fare that usually followed.
However, this January the schedule did not have the easy flow it worked hard to achieve over the past year. Multiple encores and a lot of specials chopped up the rhythm. MONICA: STILL STANDING ran two new episodes and 19 encores, with seemingly random airings. There were over 9 different specials, some new (FOOD FOR THOUGHT: JAYZ, THE SINGLE: MONICA, WORDS & MUSIC W/ MARY JB) most repeats (BET HIP HOP AWARDS, BEYONCE: I AM YOURS!) All with either a musical theme or a political or social voice (UNICEF EVENING OF THE STARS, 2010 STATE OF THE UNION, NEWS: SOTU COVERAGE), and one with both politics and music (HOPE FOR HAITI). Some specials were ratings successes (HIP HOP AWARDS encore, JAYZ), some were not (STATE OF THE UNION, SOTU COVERAGE).
But the clear ratings winner of the month was the Sunday, January 10th airing of CELEBRATION OF GOSPEL, which was the 10th annual run of the special. It produced ratings that nearly doubled the nearest telecast (MONICA: STILL STANDING finale), and according to BET, it was up with the key demographic - adults 18-49 - up 47% versus the 2009 telecast, making it the number one CELEBRATION OF GOSPEL in BET history. The two encores that followed in the two consecutive weeks dropped below the Monday-Sunday primetime average.
Of note, along with a stronger female skew, the network had the oldest average age ever this January. (Sunday night was the primary force in driving up the audience age.)
More will be required in 2010 to keep the network growing. The easy moves have been made, now it is time for the network to show its stuff - focus on the core with tighter scheduling and fresh programming.
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
As we said here before, BET is winning the game by going back to the basics. Scheduling is more consistent and predictable for viewers. Proven movies are the foundation for the primetime schedule each night. Programs that spike the ratings are scheduled multiple times throughout the week. New shows that stick to winning formats are constantly under development. And the network remains nimble enough to capture current events in its programming. With those programming basics employed to help boost the 2009 numbers, what can we expect for 2010?
Future plans are heavy on celebrity / music / reality,/ competition but those programs tend to have a short shelf life. Development needs to stay active to support that strategy.
SOMEBODIES was a failed attempt at a scripted original drama, and BET is one of the few top rated cable networks without a scripted original on their air or on their development slate. Community-building news programming lends the network a strong voice, if not always strong ratings, and will continue to be an integral part of BET's future.