New York -- BET Networks chairman and CEO Debra Lee has a message for
networks shooting at the programmer's leadership position among
African-American audiences: "bring it on."
Lee, speaking at the inaugural Multiethnic TV Leadership
Awards presented by Multichannel News and B&C, said it makes
sense that dedicated networks like TV One, Bounce, OWN and Aspire and services
lime WE tv, Bravo and GMC with shows targeting African-American are taking aim.
"It's smart for the others. You can't be in this business
and ignore Latinos and African-Americans," she said, noting their growth in
audience, influence and spending power.
However, the proliferation of competitors has served to make
BET better, according to Lee, who on April 16 celebrated her 27th anniversary
with the company.
She recalled that when plans for TV One for announced a
decade ago, she called then Viacom executive Mel Karmazin, and said â€˜We have
competition.' He replied, â€˜Competition makes the leader stronger.' Lee
continued by saying that "BET has a great story to tell. We have
programming that is being executed at a high level. We love competition. Bring
Asked by Multichannel News programming editor R.
Thomas Umstead what her vision was when she became CEO seven years ago, Lee
quickly pointed to the addition of more original programming. "It was important
for us to own our content. We've been focused on that."
She also noted that brand strategy research has been key for
BET and sister service Centric, with the three precepts of "respect, reflect
and elevate, informing the company's programming, marketing and pro-social
Those elements, emphasized during the company's upfront
presentation to advertisers, has helped forge "emotional connections" to
BET and Centric. "We have more connections with the audience than Style,
Bravo, We, TV One. OWN. They're all going after our audience, but our ratings
are higher than ever."
Looking ahead, Lee wants BET to continue to produce more
original programming fare and "be ahead of the curve" as to whatever's next,
saying one of the challenges for BET is to be "anywhere and everywhere" its
audience is now and heading the road. "It's cable, BET.com, digital platforms,
mobile, social media, Twitter, Instagram. We encourage our talent to part of
that and it helps. Kevin Hart has 7 million followers and that's a plus for Real
Husbands of Hollywood." Lee said she was just at MIP, pitching the reality
show parody internationally.
Looking five years out, Lee said it always has been her goal
for BET to be known as "the best content creation network for African-Americans
audiences. As our audience grows, our power will grow to continue making
award-winning programming." She said there will be more sitcoms, more
dramas made for TV movies.
"We'll keep doing more of what we're doing
and world domination, starting with the Real Husbands of Hollywood,"
Lee concluded with a laugh.