BET programming chief Stephen Hill with Kelly Rowland of the network's new show Chasi

Upfronts 2015: BET Feels Love from Black Viewers

New programming features Brandy, Kelly Rowland, Whoopi Goldberg

Related: BET Takes Comic Shot at Nielsen

At a time when diversity is creeping into the most popular shows on the biggest networks, BET is reminding advertisers that it has the key to African-Americans’ hearts and wallets.

At upfront presentations this week, BET showed off the results of research it has done into TV brand love; introduced programming featuring familiar faces including Brandy, Kelly Rowland, Queen Latifah and Whoopi Goldberg; and took a shot at Nielsen.

Louis Carr, president of ad sales for BET, said that the emergence of shows like Empire and How to Get Away with Murder — whose ratings are buttressed by an influx of minority viewers — is a good thing for BET.

“It’s showing what we already knew,” Carr told B&C. “The force of our viewers, the force of our consumers, the force overall of black content. Everybody else is just catching up to what we already have known.”

But Carr says BET is still the leader with African Americans. “We’re way out in front of everybody else. I think everybody knows that, so it’s all good.”

One way BET is proving its leadership is with a new Brand Love study of African-Americans that looked at 33 ad supported broadcast and cable networks. At the Chicago upfront, Carr said BET was No. 1 in emotional attachment.

The network also drew the highest grades when asked which network was their favorite, which network has a fresh outlook on entertainment, music and fashion, and which network elevates issues important to me and features issues important to me.

More to the point of selling ads, BET was tops when viewers were asked which network respects their culture and when asked if they consider seeing a commercial on the network a recommendation.

“The real purpose of this year’s upfront is to show you how Black consumers experience BET Networks differently than any other media brand,” Carr said.

Carr said BET also has insights into the minds of the millennials so many advertisers are trying to reach. Millennials account for 40% of the black population, he said, and those consumers spend 30% more on luxury brands and 20% more on snacks, beverages, cellphones, footwear and quick serve restaurants.

“Black millennials are a major force in today’s media landscape. More importantly, they move products,” he said.

BET is owned by Viacom, and though Viacom restructured and consolidated its ad sales operations, BET operates separately at a time when scale and reach are important to marketers. But Carr maintains that “in the space we play in, we are still the biggest. Our consumers make a difference and we show it in every measurement.”

As a part of Viacom, which has issues with the way its viewership shows up in the ratings, BET took a shot at Nielsen during its presentation.

Last year’s upfront wasn’t a good one for most cable networks. While buyers expect this year to be similarly tough, Carr thinks the market will be good for BET. “What we’ve got is hot right now. Our black culture, black lifestyle, it’s hot right now. People realize our size, our resources, our insights. So I think at the end of the day, we win.”

During the presentation BET’s head of programming, Stephen Hill announced plans to have more hours of original programming than ever before.

Among the new series:

  • Zoe Moon, a romantic sitcom starring Brandy Norwood, now in the final season of BET’s popular The Game, as a newly single mom.
  • Chasing Destiny, a reality show starring Destiny Child singer Kelly Rowland who searches for the next girl group.
  • Punk’d, a reboot of the MTV hidden camera series
  • About the Business, a docu-series about a group of friends in Hollywood pursuing careers in the entertainment industry.
  • Criminals At Work, which uses security video and re-enactments to explore crime and violence in the workplace.
  • The Label, a docu-series about the rise and fall of some classic record companies with Chris "Ludacris" Bridges as one of the executive producers.
  • DeSean Jackson: Home Team, features the NFL player’s life at home, which is run by a group of women including his mom and sister.

BET is also planning news specials on Hurricane Katrina, Muhammad Ali and O.J. Simpson.

On the digital side, BET is expanding its #BLX franchise with a sports edition that will look at players from the NBA and the NFL.

BET also introduced new shows for Centric, its network aimed at African-American women. Those include:

  • According to Alex, a reality show featuring the friend and family surrounding Alex Martin Dean, daughter of Whoopi Goldberg, who serves as an executive producer.
  • #MyCurrentSituation, a documentary series about everyday people dealing with issues from running for office to working as a stripper.
  • Curve Appeal, featuring stylist Timothy Snell, who helps plus-size women look good. Queen Latifah is an executive producer.
  • From the Bottom Up, a docu-series about women trying to make comebacks. Queen Latifah is an executive producer.