Holding Its Own

BET dismisses TV One as serious competition
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BET has a bottom-line view of new African-American channel TV One. With about 2 million subscribers, BET says, TV One is "not a factor."

Well, not yet. BET reaches 78 million homes. But TV One, which launched in January and is co-owned by Comcast and Radio One, could become a future force. And, in any niche market, media buyers like to have options, even if it's only for leverage in negotiations.

Bravado aside, BET is taking the offensive.

The Viacom-owned channel just held its first upfront party for media buyers and advertisers, peppering them with Nielsen data and charming them with performances by Alicia Keyes and Missy Elliot. (Viacom bought BET for $3 billion in 2001 but has kept it separate from MTV Networks cable group, and founder and Chairman Bob Johnson and President Debra Lee are still in charge.)

BET is often panned for relying too heavily on younger-skewing music programming. In late 2002, the network sparked an outcry when it canceled some news and public-affairs programming, including respected news program BET Tonight With Ed Gordon.

To counter its critics, BET execs emphasized one message: BET is the top destination for African-Americans on TV.

"We've been challenged," says ad sales chief Louis Carr, "but BET reigns supreme." Carr noted it's the top-rated network in weekday prime for African-American adults in the three key demos: 18-34, 18-49, and 25-54.

Plus, BET insists that plenty of its fare appeals to older viewers, such as its gospel shows, big events, TheBET Nightly News,
and movies. This fall, BET will add off-net runs of Showtime drama Soul Food,
likely to be popular with older and younger demos alike.

The network's new slate of original series may be more appealing to younger viewers. BET plans to add four non-scripted shows for the 2004-05 season: Style, an entertainment-news show; Speak Now, where celebrities weigh in on issues; On and Off, a look at music stars' professional and personal lives; and music show BET Concert Series. Reality show College Hill, set at a black college, returns for a second season.

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