BET earmarks $10 mil to push site

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BET Holdings II will spend $8 million to $10 million to advertise Bet.com, billing it as the biggest-ever campaign for a Web site targeting an ethnic audience.

The site, being launched this month after a two-month delay, is entering an increasingly competitive space where other Web sites targeting African-Americans already have strong footholds, including Tribune Co.'s Blackvoices.com and Cox Interactive's BlackFamilies.com.

But Robert Johnson, chairman-CEO of BET Holdings and BET.com, claims his company's site, a joint venture of Microsoft Corp., News Corp., USA Networks and Liberty Digital Media, will exceed all other Web sites in the amount, breadth and depth of content it contains.

"This site has unparalleled resources and more than $2 billion in support from our partners, and it will receive more advertising than any other site out there," Mr. Johnson said.

NO `DIGITAL DIVIDE'

The TV, print, radio, out-of-home and online ad campaign is themed "Where we Web." TV commercials will air on broadcast as well as cable network TV. Cavi Productions, Chicago, created the effort. Cavi is headed by Kevyn Lewis, formerly with Don Coleman Advertising, Southfield, Mich. Media buying for the effort is being handled by IMC Communications, New York.

The media buy includes ads in African-American niche titles such as Code, Ebony, Essence, Honey, Source and Vibe, said Stacie Turner, VP-marketing at BET.com. BET Holdings will support the paid media effort with spots on its BET cable network and ads in its magazines, including Heart & Soul and Emerge.

BET.com also used an online 60-second multimedia postcard to announce the site's launch. The postcard, created by DNA Studios, Los Angeles, features music and moving graphics describing the site. It was sent to 100,000 people, including 70,000 who requested online notification of the site's launch, Ms. Turner said.

BET.com's offerings range from news provided by Reuters to health and sports information plus online networking opportunities for careers, families and women. The site also puts a heavy emphasis on entertainment with comedy plus live streaming of videos and music.

Mr. Johnson rejected the idea that a digital divide has prevented millions of African-Americans from gaining Internet access compared with the general population.

"I'm not sure the idea of a digital divide is scientifically sound," he said. "More African-Americans tend to be cable TV subscribers than members of the general population; they have proved they will pay $45 a month for better entertainment and they are top users of technology including cell phones, pagers and VCRs. AfricanAmericans are embracing the Internet."

ORGANIZING BY ZONES

BET.com's strategy is to offer zones organized around site users' interests, allowing the users to customize zones with encouragement to visit the site several times a day for breaking news and entertainment, said Scott Mills, chief operating officer of BET.com.

"We'll be creating most of our own content, and also drawing from third-party providers, building relationships with content providers complementing our own offerings," said Mr. Mills, adding that BET.com has a growing staff that now numbers 20 creating original content for the site daily.

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