BET targets older viewers with new channel

Centric debuts in October, replacing BET J

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 new service "focused on and central to the African-American adult experience."
Set to launch in the fourth quarter of 2009, Centric is expected to replace BET J, a spinoff of the flagship network that reaches some 32 million households. The target penetration for Centric's first day of operation is 45 million homes.
With a target audience of adults 25-54, Centric will join TV One as one of the few TV outlets developed expressly for middle-aged black consumers and their families. (Since the dissolution of UPN in 2006, clients looking to efficiently reach the demo have had to pony up for bulk-delivery vehicles like the NFL, "American Idol" or "CSI" or syndicated shows like "House of Payne" and "Judge Judy.")
"In this ever-cluttered media environment, BET brings our advertising partners closer to the African-American consumer than any other media company," said Louis Carr, president of broadcast media sales at BETN. "We'll be offering exciting new programming that will give our partners an unprecedented, powerful way to connect with these consumers -- young trendsetters, community organizers and trustees and hardworking, multigenerational families."
Centric will look to bring in viewers with an eclectic mix of original programming, including "Keeping Up With the Joneses," a docu-soap that focuses on Houston's upper crust; "Leading Men," a BET J transplant that profiles prominent entertainers like Wyclef Jean and Terrence Howard; "Model City," which chronicles a group of aspiring male models; and "Real Life Divas," an up-close-and-personal look at the lives of fashion icons and artists like Iman, Chaka Khan and Naomi Campbell. (Divas is also a BET J original, having premiered on the channel in October.)

Meanwhile, BET 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 last spring 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. "As the No. 1 African-American media company in the world, we have a unique opportunity to make the world of our audience better and provide them with quality entertainment that speaks to where they are in their lives, and where they want to go."
Lee went on to say that the new BET would look to entertain families by "embracing and encouraging their dreams, focusing on the issues that are important to them and presenting the freshest talent and entertainment."
"Our research has shown us what our viewers expect and what they want from us," Carr said. "We're responding by giving them the content that reflects and is relevant to who they are, is respectful of what they want to be."
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 11% (219,000), beating out the likes of Lifetime, E! And Sci Fi Channel, while adults 18-49 were up 15% to 382,000.