i.20: BET's Scott Mills

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If the company had it to do over, BET Holdings would have launched its Web site as a standalone force, rather than as a satellite of its other media properties or a stepchild of Microsoft Corp.

As it turns out, BET will get to do exactly that. Next month the four-year-old site drops the name msbet.com and is reborn as BET.com, sporting a new attitude as a destination portal for African-Americans, enriched by BET's cable TV channels and magazines.

This is not the first time BET has repositioned its site as it has labored to find itself and its audience since its arrival in 1995. This time, however, the make-over is going to stick, says Scott Mills, who has been instrumental in crafting the strategy.

A natural entrepreneur, Mr. Mills hit his stride as an investment banker where he honed his skills in rapid number-crunching with an ability to bridge different factions' points of view. He joined BET Holdings and was called upon to find and execute several new business plans a year. "Without saying there was anything wrong with our existing business model, I started from scratch to help create a new business model for BET.com, then presented it to [BET Holdings Chairman-CEO] Robert Johnson. There was silence for two weeks, then he announced we would execute it," recalls a relieved Mr. Mills.

MONEY AND MUSCLE

But Mr. Mills and BET can relax on one count: It's got big money and muscle behind it. Microsoft, News Corp. and USA Networks all became investors in BET.com in January, resulting in a $35 million boon and a rich menu of content offerings. BET Holdings, which maintains a 51% ownership in its site, also brings to BET.com content from its cable TV channels.

The site will get little promotion or publicity before its relaunch:

BET.com hired Don Coleman Advertising, Detroit, to do online advertising, including TV, print and radio after the site goes live Dec. 15.

"A lot of people are watching us, and we want to turn on the marketing after we're relaunched," Mr. Mills says.

Copyright November 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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