BET a new player in home video

Pacts with Par to distribute new division's DVDs

BET Networks is forming its own home video division in partnership with Paramount Home Entertainment, the companies announced Thursday. Under the deal, Paramount will distribute original BET television programming as well as made-for-DVD titles and acquired content on a worldwide basis.

The first release, "Celebration of Gospel: Taking You Higher," came out May 8 in the wake of its January BET airing that drew an estimated 2.5 million viewers, making it the most-seen religious/gospel program in television history, according to BET.

Other titles slated for DVD release this year are such popular BET programs as the reality series "College Hill," currently in its fourth season on the network, and the acclaimed documentary series "American Gangster," which chronicles the lives of some of the country's most notorious black crime figures.

The partnership between BET and Paramount also will yield direct-to-DVD content, including scripted comedy, drama and animation.

Kelley Avery, worldwide president of home entertainment for Paramount Pictures, said the BET brand "is trusted by millions of consumers" and that she and her team look forward to "extending the brand's reach through highly focused home entertainment releases."

The deal is expected to result in 10 to 12 DVD releases a year.

BET chairman and CEO Debra Lee said the deal is part of her overall plan to grow BET beyond its television network roots. Original programming factors high on the list; BET has just announced it is developing 16 original shows in a variety of genres, from reality and sports to comedy and animation. The company also is gearing up to launch a filmed entertainment division whose initial offerings likely will include made-for-TV and made-for-DVD movies.

"This is a great opportunity for us to broaden our relationship with our audiences and comes as we continue the rapid growth of the network, increasing our output of original television programming and expanding into filmed entertainment."

Constance Cribb-Knight has been hired as vp BET Home Entertainment. She will report to Byron Phillips, executive vp entertainment at BET Networks. Cribb-Knight joins BET Networks from the Walt Disney Co., where she oversaw the creation of marketing materials, promotions and content programming for the Disney Movie Club. She previously worked at New Line Home Entertainment.

"Connie brings a wealth of industry expertise and is widely respected in the urban DVD space," Phillips said. "Under her leadership, I am confident that BET Home Entertainment will thrive and deliver content that our audiences will love."

BET and Paramount are both divisions of Viacom Inc. The primary BET Channel reaches more than 84 million households, according to Nielsen Media Research, and can be seen throughout the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.