For African-AmericanViewers, Content Is Key

BET, TV One set to pitch higher viewer engagement to ad buyers

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The big ratings for The Game helped prove what Louis Carr, president for media sales at BET, has been telling ad buyers.The Game drew 7.7 million viewers when original episodes debuted on BET last month, nearly triple the number that used to tune in when the show was broadcast on the CW.

“We’ve been saying that African-Americans engage more with BET and our programming than they do anyplace else,” Carr says. “It really reinforces the passion that people have for the brand, and the content that we have on-air and online.”

As the upfront approaches, advertisers look for ways to target specific audiences. The question usually arises about the best way to reach African-Americans, a large consumer segment that also watches a lot of television.

By creating more original programming, cable networks geared for African- Americans such as BET and TV One are providing marketers with more options to match up their messages with attractive content, says Marissa Nance, who leads multicultural initiatives for media agency OMD.

“There’s more and more opportunities now to reach those consumers in meaningful ways, as more and more content is being developed,” Nance says.

Historically, African-Americans have been underserved by TV networks, but “once they find content that they deem to be of value and that touches and connects with them, they watch it in droves,” Nance says, pointing to the massive numbers for The Game on BET, a network that until recently was largely known for cheap music videos and comedy specials.

To be sure, there are many general-market shows that attract large numbers of African-American viewers. For the week of Jan. 17, the top-rated shows among African-Americans were the NFL conference championship games, American Idol and Hawaii Five-O, according to Nielsen.

Nance says that while football pulls big African-American audiences, “those are not meant to be relevant and contextual toward the African-American audience . . . what we have to look for is the environment. And BET and TV One do have a ton of that programming that you can put your advertising in to reach those consumers.”

Similarly, Carr says you can find a lot of African-American viewers watching a show like CSI, but “to engage and influence them, to do the things you want them to do, to buy more products, to buy more services, you go to those passion points. And those passion points usually live in those media platforms that really have built their brands around targeting those specific consumers.”

It’s unclear how much money marketers earmark to reach African- Americans. “It’s done on a product-by-product, client-by-client basis, so it’s hard to generalize something like that,” Nance says.

Carr hopes it is increasing, because the African-American market is growing faster than the general market. When BET makes its upfront pitches, the network will include a commitment to scripted programming.

The broadcast-sized numbers for The Game overshadowed the strong launch of a BET original, Let’s Stay Together, which attracted 4.4 million viewers. “We are in that genre big-time right now. We have some new shows that we’re going to be bringing out, scripted series for the new upfront,” Carr says.

TV One held its first-ever upfront presentation in New York last week. It introduced the new talk-variety series Way Black When and the return of some of the network’s most popular shows, including Lisa- Raye: The Real McCoy and Donald J. Trump Presents The Ultimate Merger.

While TV One’s ratings increased 17% last year, BET’s Carr doesn’t see them as a major rival.

“To be honest, I don’t view anybody as competition right now because there is nobody who is doing it in a large manner,” Carr says. “Is Turner, with the Tyler Perry stuff competition? Not really. That’s one or two nights a week, versus our five nights a week and 24 hours a day, so that’s not competition. You look at [TBS]—they have maybe one or two shows that have African-American talent in the lead or a co-lead position, so that’s not really competition. You’ve got TV One out there, and they’re only in 50 million homes and they have very, very small ratings, so really that’s not competition. So really right now we’re head and shoulders above everybody else, and I think everybody sees that.”

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette