The Date:April 18, 2007
The Venue: Manhattan Center Studios, New York
Key Execs: Debra Lee, chairman-COO, BET; Reginald Hudlin, president-entertainment; Louis Carr, president-media sales, BET Networks
The Ratings Game: In year-to-date live total-day ratings, BET averages a 0.3 household rating with a median age of 26.7, falling squarely in the middle of its target 18-to-34 African-American demo. In prime time, it posted a 0.4 among a median audience age of 27. (All data according to Nielsen Media Research.)
The Digital Play: MTV Networks has MTV Mobile, MTV Online, Comedy Central's streaming video player and VH1's V Spot, among other successful off-network initiatives.
The Buyer's Verdict: L. Renee Richardson, director of African American markets for Publicis' Tapestry, said she was excited to see more multiplatform offerings coming from BET this year. Among them is the Icon Awards, a partnership with Black Enterprise that recognizes underrepresented African American business leaders. "In bringing this type of opportunity to the forefront, BET opens a door for advertisers to reach an underserved, yet affluent audience," she said. Ms. Richardson has also long been eager to get her clients' ad dollars behind the regular "Celebration of Gospel" special. "It's one of the most-watched shows for African Americans on TV today, and it provides a prime environment for family-oriented programming. As the No. 1 TV vehicle for African Americans, BET is highly effective in reaching this demographic."
Forget commercial ratings and engagement. The key to really discovering where a cable network fits into the grand scheme for this year's upfront is through consumer research, said Louis Carr, who heads ad sales for Viacom cabler BET.
Over the last two years, the top cable destination for the black audience has held focus groups, commissioned Berman and Myers research studies and polled more than 10,000 African Americans to better understand how to position its brand, Mr. Carr said. "We want people to really understand we're not this thing because we're black. It's that we know everything about the black consumer market. We're putting resources into this ever-changing market."
BET's thorough understanding of its audience was reflected in the programming slate entertainment president Reginald Hudlin unveiled April 18 at New York's Manhattan Center Studios. The lineup comprised a broad range of original series ranging from animation (the sketch comedy "BUFU" co-created by former 7-Up pitchman Orlando Jones) to reality (the "Laguna Beach"-esque "Baldwin Hills") to sports (NBA-themed "Ballers" and martial arts-centric "Iron Ring"). The network also announced its first scripted series, "Somebodies," a single-camera sitcom from the executive producers of "The Bernie Mac Show."
But the show Mr. Carr is most excited about from an ad standpoint is "Sunday Best," an "American Idol" for the church and gospel set. Like its more secular Fox counterpart, "Sunday Best" will have plenty of opportunities for brand involvement, with Mr. Carr reporting early commitments from several key marketing categories. "Everybody we've preliminarily mentioned it to has said, 'What a simple, great idea.'"
As all networks grapple with engagement and higher commercial pod retention, Mr. Carr said BET has long been a place for targeted, relevant advertising to its core viewers and experimentation with "pod-busters" and "show-mercials" where they make sense. He gives the ad industry credit for more churning out more diversified creative in recent years to make black audiences feel more included. "When you see a commercial when no people are colored, you think, 'The casting call must've gotten missed by somebody.'"
As agencies and networks gear up for another complicated upfront, Mr. Carr hopes the value of the black consumer marketplace does not go overlooked, particularly as it relates to his network.
"If you look at our marketplace, we are the only brand out there, whether it's mobile or internet or video on-demand or broadband, that is up to date on all those services to the African-American community," Mr. Carr said. "Our brand is engaging and interacting within that community to offer tremendous opportunities for marketers to engage in products and services with them on a personal basis."