BET Awards Ratings Soar Thanks to Michael Jackson, Twitter

Net Used Social-Media Tool to Announce New Acts, Encourage Fan Feedback

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NEW YORK ( -- Broadcast networks may have gotten a boost from Michael Jackson tributes over the weekend, but the biggest beneficiary was Sunday night's BET Awards. The Viacom cable network's annual ceremony was the year's highest-rated cable telecast, with 10.65 million viewers watching live-plus-same day, thanks to its last-minute tribute to the late singer and more than a little help from a partnership with Twitter.

Jamie Foxx honors Michael Jackson on Sunday night's BET Awards.
Jamie Foxx honors Michael Jackson on Sunday night's BET Awards. Credit: BET
On Thursday afternoon, just hours before Mr. Jackson would be pronounced dead at UCLA Medical Center, Scott Mills, chief operating officer, was touting the network's rapidly growing presence on Twitter, which had doubled to more than 20,000 by June 25 from just more than 10,000 followers on June 22. The @betawards Twitter account was used to announce new artists just moments after they had been booked to perform at the show. Viewer feedback and comments were collected for a "Wall of Tweets" that appeared on the network's website and will also appear on-air during the show's repeat airings on June 30, July 2 and July 6.

Mr. Mills said last Thursday of Twitter, "Unlike mobile or online voting, it's the immediacy that gives it extraordinary resonance. So many of the artists and celebrities that are part of the show are either participating or attendees and have giant followings online, so this is exactly the kind of thing their followers would like to be aware of. We want to leverage that opportunity to make the people who aren't in the venue but watching the show at home feel a part, too, by encouraging those constituencies to tweet while they're enjoying the show."

By Sunday night, the followers numbered 40,000-plus, with BET Awards-related terms accounting for all 10 Twitter trending topics at one point during the show's three-and-a-half-hour telecast. Traffic to also saw a 100% increase over last year's BET Awards coverage, and broke the site's records for best two-day total for unique users for the June 28 and June 29.

Although the Twitter partnership wasn't a revenue-sharing effort, Chloe Sladden, Twitter's director-media partnerships, said, "We're in an experimental phase -- we're focused on learning and developing creative audience-building approached with our broadcast collaborators."

The Jackson effect
Although the BET Awards regularly ranks as the network's highest-rated telecast each year, BET Networks CEO Debra Lee readily acknowledged the role Mr. Jackson's tribute played in helping this year's show go above and beyond all previous ceremonies.

"The number of viewers who tuned in to see the BET Awards '09 is a testament to Michael Jackson's far-reaching and long-lasting influence and legacy," Ms. Lee said in a statement. "We're thankful to everyone who played a role in the show, both onstage and behind the camera, and it meant so much to all of us to be there for our audience at this emotional time."

The show's sponsors also got a big boost from the larger-than-anticipated audience. Kmart sponsored its first award, the "Best Collegiate Athlete Award" on behalf of the Protégé Apparel athletic line sold exclusively at its stores, during the "106 & Park" pre-show, which attracted a network-best 3.1 million total viewers. Ford also used the pre-show to promote its 2010 Ford Fusion and the Lincoln MKS, the full-size luxury vehicles that served as hosts throughout the red-carpet coverage. Procter & Gamble sponsored the "My Black Is Beautiful Post-Show," which garnered a record-setting 5.2 million viewers, plugging its Queen Collection brand, endorsed by Queen Latifah.

Louis Carr, BETN's president of broadcast media sales, called the BET Awards the "black Super Bowl." "When you look at the numbers this show garners, the type of demand for tickets, the stars we have and the red carpet of any sort of tent-pole award show on television, it clearly comes off as the biggest family event for our audience," he said.

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