New BET channel has an older angle


BET Networks on Thursday took the wraps off a new basic-cable channel designed to attract an older, more affluent segment of the black television audience.

As part of the Viacom unit's annual upfront pitch to media buyers and clients, BETN president and COO Scott Mills introduced Centric, a service "focused on and central to the African-American adult experience."

Set to launch in the fourth quarter, Centric is expected to replace BET J, a spinoff of the flagship network that reaches about 32 million households. The target penetration for Centric's first day is 45 million homes.

With a target audience of adults 25-54, Centric will join TV One among the few television outlets developed expressly for middle-aged black consumers and their families.

Centric will look to bring in viewers with an eclectic mix of original programming, including "Keeping Up With the Joneses," a docusoap that focuses on Houston's upper crust; "Leading Men," a BET J transplant that profiles such prominent entertainers as Wyclef Jean and Terrence Howard; "Model City," which chronicles aspiring male models; and "Real Life Divas," an up-close look at such fashion icons and artists as Iman, Chaka Khan and Naomi Campbell. ("Divas" also is a BET J original, having premiered on the channel in October.)

Meanwhile, BET also is heading into the upfront with a mandate to expand beyond its core 18-34 demo. Under the new brand strategy, BET will look to make inroads with the 18-49 crowd by way of a more family-friendly slate.

Among the shows in the works for 2009-10 are "Crews Control," an unscripted series about "Everybody Hates Chris" actor Terry Crews and his family; "Changing Lanes," a reality strip about NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program and its efforts to draw more minority drivers to the sport; and "The Mo'Nique Show," a nightly talk/variety show hosted by the erstwhile star of "The Parkers."

BETN chairman and CEO Debra Lee said the network's new direction began taking shape in spring 2008, as Barack Obama canvassed the country in his bid for the Oval Office.

"Given the historic change our country has experienced, this is the perfect time for BET Networks to re-examine where we are as a company and what we can be for our audience," Lee said.

BET heads into the annual spring bazaar with significant ratings wind at its back, having boosted its primetime delivery by 20% in the first quarter to 755,000 viewers. Per Nielsen ratings data, the net grew its nightly 18-34 audience by 11% (219,000), beating out the likes of Lifetime, E! and Sci Fi Channel, while adults 18-49 were up 15% to 382,000.

Anthony Crupi is senior editor at Mediaweek.