BET Streaming Service Taps Netflix Alum as Leader (Exclusive)

Devin Griffin will oversee BET+, the subscription video-on-demand platform set to launch in the fall.
Courtesy of BET
Devin Griffin will be the general manager of BET's forthcoming streaming service, BET+.

BET+, the forthcoming subscription video-on-demand platform set to launch in the fall and target African American viewers, has its leader.

Netflix alum Devin Griffin has joined the Viacom-owned platform as its general manager. In his new role, Griffin will be charged with overseeing business strategy and operations — including content development, programming, marketing, distribution, planning and analysis for BET+. He will be based in Los Angeles and report directly to BET president Scott Mills.

"I am beyond excited to be joining the BET brand at such a pivotal time in the industry. With BET+, I see a big opportunity to provide powerful, comprehensive programming to African Americans, and lovers of black culture, in the SVOD space," Griffin said. "This audience has a voracious appetite for quality, authentic black stories and has been underserved for too long."

Before joining BET+ in April, Griffin was a producer and exec vp at Story Lab U.S., where he co-founded and led the company's foray into premium longform content development. During his less than a year tenure there, Griffin developed multiple projects with Anonymous Content, ITV and the NBA Players Association. Before that, Devin formed and led Netflix's unscripted group, for whom he commissioned more than 40 series, including Queer Eye and The Toys That Made Us. He also worked on scripted drama, comedy, sci-fi and anime projects at Netflix, including Black Mirror, Designated Survivor, Z Nation and stand-up specials from the likes of Chelsea Peretti and Wyatt Cenac, among others. Before Netflix, Griffin spent time as head of business development for Lorne Michaels' Universal TV-based Broadway Video banner and held roles with the NBA, among other outlets.

BET+ — a joint venture with Tyler Perry — will launch in the fall and feature a mixture of library content from various Viacom brands as well as Perry's former TBS comedies House of Payne and Meet the Browns in addition to scripted originals like Tracy Oliver's First Wives Club and Will Packer's Bigger (formerly Peachtree Place). Perry's first original series as part of his Viacom overall deal — The Oval — will launch on the BET linear network before moving to the streaming platform. Perry will be responsible for 75 hours of original content, including a live holiday production, between October and September 2020, with that programming moving to BET+ after its debut on the linear network.

Below, Griffin talks exclusively with The Hollywood Reporter about his plans for the platform.

What was it about this job that was appealing to you, especially given your track record at Netflix?

As of next week, I'll have been here just shy of three months. I started in mid-April. The thing that made me so excited about this opportunity is that following my time at Netflix, I got to see the power of being able to program content for audiences that are either underserved or starved. The world of black content — where BET has been a leader in serving for the past 17 years — is one that has been ripe for an over- the-top SVOD service. Of the many things that I would have considered doing as I move forward in my career and thought about what was important to me, being able to be a part of BET and really attack this opportunity is something that was right down the middle for me.

BET+ will also feature content from other Viacom brands. Why is the service specifically named after BET? Given Tuesday's news with WarnerMedia's streaming service named HBO Max, the idea of naming a platform after one of a media giant's brands isn't too far off. But why BET?

It's about the track record of the company and what the brand means to the audience and to the community. It's a brand that the community really feels a lot of ownership and connection to. Given that for the last 17 years, we've been the leading network for black content, I think it makes sense for us to really leverage the power and resonance of the brand and bring all that legacy and weight to the market.

But it will also feature content that's not specifically targeted to the African American community with series from Comedy Central and MTV, among other Viacom partners. So the question becomes if the name BET+ may be cumbersome in trying to broaden out the service beyond the African American demo? Or will this service be exclusively targeting that audience?

We are looking to super-serve African Americans and people who love black content. As we think about our sister networks and their content, it's really going to be about finding those shows that have specifically resonated with this audience. That's really us delivering on the BET promise, which is about entertaining, engaging and empowering African Americans. And that includes talent, creators and producers. It's about connecting the black experience into the community.

Viacom already has an ad-supported streaming service, Pluto TV. What will separate BET+ from that?

Pluto TV and BET+ are going to be aligned strategically. It's really about the idea that we're going to grow the consumption of our brands across the ecosystem. So, the real differentiation is going to be that Pluto will be ad-supported, where BET+ will be ad-free. They'll ultimately be complementary to each other and to all of our linear platforms and brands. 

How is the distinction made as to which content will be earmarked for the streaming service versus  the linear network? BET president Scott Mills previously said that First Wives Club was a show he thought fit perfectly for his network and now it's going to the streaming platform.

This is a new endeavor for us and its main goal is to help us expand the tent and expand the voices and the stories that we can bring to this audience in a way that it can complement BET. In fairness, it's going to be an evolving process for us in figuring out which shows belong to which. Over time, as we learn what resonates, we'll get faster at making sure that we program each of these platforms in the right ways.

Is there a demographic breakdown? Like for Disney, Hulu will have more of its upscale/adult-oriented content — like from FX — while its OTT platform, Disney+, is more family-friendly. What's the difference between BET and BET+? Is that based on budgets?

I wouldn't think about it from a demo standpoint because for us, the "plus" is what's really important in that it's going to be leveraging the audiences and the stories that the core BET audience wants but it's everything else. Because we're not ad-supported, there is a broader array of stories that we can tell. To think about it in terms of demo doesn't make sense for us right now because subscribers — young, old and in between — are all subscribers. It's really going to be about how we can be most effective in telling stories to folks who see value in that experience.

So, if Tyler Perry comes to you to make a premium, racy version of Euphoria, for example, there's a platform to accommodate that?

Whatever idea Tyler brings to us, given his track record, we'll definitely engage on it seriously. Our research tells us that African Americans are voracious consumers of content, they watch way more than everyone else. I do think it will be about expanding the aperture of the kind of things we can program through BET+ as a part of the broader BET family.  

Perry will have four new series — including The Oval — for the linear network. BET+ will have First Wives Club and the Will Packer show. How much more aggressive will you be when it comes to buying originals?

We're not going into specifics on that publicly but the idea is that originals will be an important part of our strategy and something that we'll try to leverage BET+ to bring new voices and stories into the fold that really engage this audience in new ways. 

Scott Mills' first plan since taking over for Debra Lee was to have six scripted series in 2019. Is there a goal for what kind of balance between new originals and library content you have in mind for the platform's first year?
It's not something that we're ready to comment on. The idea is we want to bring a strong and consistent flow of new original stories and we're going to work our way through that as we go.

How aggressive will BET+ be when it comes to bidding for library content?

We're going to take a thoughtful approach in terms of targeting the titles that we think are really going to resonate with viewers and with our subscribers. We'll be as active and aggressive as we need to in order to bring the best shows to round out and to offer the most comprehensive selection of shows for our audience.

Is there a library title you'd like to see on BET+? My first thought on Tuesday when HBO Max announced The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for its streaming platform was that it would have been a good show for BET+ to have.

Fresh Prince is a great title. We're holding that kind of information close to the vest because we are trying to take a pretty methodical approach to selecting titles. We don't want to comment on anything we don't currently have or aren't ready to talk about publicly.

Will BET+ also be making original scripted feature films on top of series?

Yes. It'll be both.

How will you approach the red-hot overall deals market? Are you looking to make deals specific for BET+ or will those types of pacts be reserved for those larger company-wide Viacom agreements — like the all-encompassing one Trevor Noah has?

Because of the broader and complex pieces that fit in to that with the Viacom family, it's not my place to comment on that. We want to be competitive in the market and pursue the deals that make the most sense for us to be able to offer the best content.

Are there any specific producers you'd like to see Viacom pursue?

We're thrilled to have Tyler Perry be a big part of this. There aren't other names that we're in a place to talk about or speculate on right now.

BET+ will launch in the fall. What can you say about a price point for the service?

We're excited to launch in the fall. We're not yet ready to start talking about the prices. We really want to make sure that we do a good job of communicating the value of the service to the consumer and potential subscribers out there so they understand that. We'll talk about price at a later date.

How big of a say does Tyler Perry have when it comes to other programming BET+ will do — outside of his own?

Tyler is a significant minority shareholder in the joint venture. He and his team are a part of the apparatus that we're using to bring in talent to put forth the strongest offer we can.

How aggressive will you guys be when it comes to bidding for new content against some of these billion-dollar spenders like Netflix?

We will be active and aggressive where we need to be. We understand and appreciate what Netflix is doing in the market and we think that what we're offering is a real complement to what they're doing. With any buyer in town, you're not going to win every one but you definitely want to be invited to the dance. That's what we're focused on, really building on the relationships and the positive feedback we get from the creative community and the excitement that's around some of the early stuff we're doing. We got a great response at the Essence festival around First Wives Club. That's going to enable us to be in those conversations and be competitive and do what makes sense for our business as far as getting programming.

At the same time, the Tracy Oliver show that just went to Amazon — which feels like a TV version of Girls Trip — went to Amazon. Was that something you were bidding on?

I can't comment on our position with that. It's not kosher for us to talk about shows we didn't win.