BET execs place bets on convergence

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Testing the promises of media synergy, is staking the future of its new Internet Web site on its ability to translate content and stream video from the flagship of its growing media empire, cable TV channel BET.

Beyond teasing Web visitors with snippets of its TV fare targeting African-Americans,'s site features a substantial portion of concerts, stand-up comedy, interviews and other entertainment programming from Black Entertainment Networks' cable TV site, encoding it for PC users.

"We are always thinking multimedia, what can we do to enhance our programming and content," says Scott Mills, chief operating officer of, a division of BET Holdings. The site was relaunched in February with backing from Microsoft Corp., News Corp., Liberty Media Group and USA Networks.

While the jury is still out on whether a Web site can build a strategy relying heavily on the transference of cable TV content to the Web, digital industry executives believe the formula can work.


"The infrastructure is rapidly being deployed to bring greater connectivity to people's homes, and that, in turn, makes them increasingly able to seek out rich-media content," says Ken Papagan, senior VP-general manager of global practices-digital media and broadband solutions, iXL, a Los Angeles digital marketing agency. "It's yet another way to draw consumers into the vast programming content that [the company] has available."

Industry executives say BET is suited to such a convergence of TV and the Web because of its entertainment focus.

Want the latest music videos? That's what hopes will attract young adults who will stay at the site for the chat and the community.

Tom Bair, director of convergence technologies at San Francisco-based SF Interactive, says it's still unclear whether people want to watch entertainment programming on a small PC screen versus a TV screen. He points out, however, that adults under age 30 "are far more likely" to entertain themselves by surfing for entertainment on the Internet.


Right now, cannot simply take the live streaming of videos and music directly from the cable TV channel. Real-time video copies of the TV content are made and sent to the Web unit for digitizing.

"It's a lengthy process," acknowledges Mr. Mills. "We're evaluating another process that . . . can capture the content directly from the BET" cable feed. executives sit in all BET programming meetings, giving the Web site advance notice of what's coming up and planning what programming access the site wants.


That means if BET has a major programming event, is right there to offer relevant interactive features, whether it's real-time chat with popular rap stars, thumbnail sketches of actors or music videos of the latest urban sound.

"Our network programming people see the Internet as a value-added opportunity for a lot of their own programming. That is, it's more interactive, and it's more engaging to a younger audience that's Internet-savvy," says Mr. Mills. "It's also a chance to . . . create new shows on the network that fully leverage"

Mr. Mills points to the success of "Live Interactive Week," which drove about 1 million visitors to the site during the week of Feb. 21, he says.

Another example of's potential and the cable network's programming came the night of the acquittal verdict last month in the case of four New York police officers charged in the killing of Amadou Diallo. The cable network scrambled to put together an edition of "BET Tonight," coordinating efforts with


"On the fly, the two teams worked together to develop an interactive show," says Mr. Mills. "The network did its show, and we did polls, surveys, discussions, chats, all in real-time. And it was exciting because, while other networks have done this, it hasn't been on an issue so germane only to African-Americans and also at a critical time providing an [outlet] for the community."

As part of its effort to create a community, is tentatively planning a contest this summer that would find and showcase the original works of African-American multimedia content creators. Promotions developed in-house for the contest would appear on the BET cable channel and other venues.

AD CAMPAIGN LAUNCHES in February kicked off an $8 million-to-$10 million TV, print, radio, out-of-home and online ad campaign themed, "Where We Web." Cavi Productions, Chicago, created the effort; media buying is handled by IMC Communications, New York. Online ads are created by DNA Studios, Los Angeles.

The campaign also includes what Stacie Turner, VP-marketing, calls "street-level promotions," which she feels "are critical at this juncture" because it brings to life in print and outdoor.

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