BET Taps New President, Debra Lee to Remain Chairman and CEO

Scott M. Mills and Debra Lee - Split - Getty - H 2017
Getty Images (Lee); Courtesy of BET (Mills)

Scott M. Mills assumes day-to-day responsibility for the evolving Viacom network.

BET is shaking things up. A year after Bob Bakish took over Viacom, the latest executive shift is a big one. Longtime BET president Debra L. Lee is ceding day-to-day duties to Scott M. Mills, who will rise to the role of president. Lee will remain chairman and CEO, focusing on BET relationships with key external stakeholders and serving as an advisor to Mills.

“In her two decades at the helm of BET Networks, Debi has built BET into a truly global entertainment powerhouse, bringing this dominant African American brand to more than 60 countries and 125 million households," Bakish, CEO and president of Viacom, said Thursday in a statement. "Her vision and leadership, unmatched intuition for what audiences want, and ability to attract and foster top talent — both behind and in front of the camera — have been pivotal to this success. We’re grateful that we will continue to benefit from Debi’s experience and insights.”

It has been a year of dramatic changes at BET. The network, like many in Viacom's cable portfolio, is honing its efforts to stay afloat in the ever-evolving TV landscape. Summer brought news that the channel, long based in Washington, D.C., would shift out of its old headquarters to focus on operations in New York and Los Angeles. There also have been multiple executive changes, as well as the incredibly promising news that entertainment titan Tyler Perry will be leaving his deal at OWN to supply nearly 100 hours of annual programming to the African American-focused cable network in 2019.

“Today, BET is thriving as the No. 1 network for African American audiences, and we continue to see strong growth in ratings, share and social engagement," said Lee. "I have spent more than 20 years leading this incredible enterprise and I am so proud of the BET team and all that we have accomplished. As I look to the future, I believe it is the right time to take a step back from day-to-day responsibilities at BET. I look forward to working closely with Scott, Michael, our many talented people — and very importantly, BET’s communities and external stakeholders.” 

As for Mills, he moves on from his current role at parent company Viacom, where he has been serving as executive vp and chief administrative officer, overseeing human resources, real estate, facilities and security. He previously worked for BET Networks, serving as president and COO, where he led business operations. He will now oversee overall strategy and day-to-day operations of BET Networks, including programming, ad sales and digital. (Michael Armstrong will continue as GM, reporting to Mills.)

“BET has consistently produced exciting, thought-provoking content, shaping culture and conversation with African Americans and young audiences around the world," said Mills. "I am honored to work alongside Debi, Michael and the incredible team at BET as we accelerate the network’s evolution across film, digital and live experiences.”