BET Networks will jump into the digital streaming video arena with the fall debut of BET+, headed up by veteran digital executive Devin Griffin. The former Netflix executive will oversee operations for the African-American targeted subscription streaming service, which will feature more than 1,000 hours of exclusive and library content including new original programming from prolific producer Tyler Perry and other leading content creators such as Will Packer (Ride Along) and Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip.)
I had a chance to speak to Griffin about the business strategy behind BET+ as well as his thoughts on the explosion of media-branded streaming services set to launch later this year. An edited transcript of the interview appears below.
BET Networks is launching BET+ during a time when other high profile streaming services from media conglomerates like WarnerMedia (HBO Max) and Disney (Disney+) are entering the scene, so why is this the best time to launch BET+?
Consumers are telling us that in addition to the great stuff that’s already out in the linear world, there is this growing demand for content anytime, anywhere, which is why we feel like it's a really exciting opportunity for us to extend the way we can engage, connect and serve the BET audience through BET+. BET is obviously the underpinning for BET+, so we’re going to build from that strength in terms of what the brand means and what kind of stories have and need to be told. The plus piece of the service represents alot of other stuff that we can do to expand the tent through this platform, whether it's to tell edgier stories or to create more family co-viewing content, or to tell more younger male stories.
How much will the service cost?
We’re not commenting on price right now. Our focus is helping our target audience understand what the value is that we’re bringing to the table. We’re bringing the number one brand in television for African-Americans together with the number one creator for African-American content in Tyler Perry -- as well as other talented creators like Tracy Oliver and Will Packer -- so we want to establish what the value proposition is first so that we can build a service that is not only entertaining but also sustainable.
You mentioned Tyler Perry. How important is his contributions to the service, both from a marketing and a content production perspective?
We think its massive. To take the number one television brand among African-Americans and combine it with the undisputed number one producer of African-American stories in Tyler Perry is an absolutely killer combination. As prolific and successful a producer as Tyler is, his marketing machine is often overlooked; he knows how to play across different types of media. For us, to have such a fine-tuned marketing partner in Tyler Perry is a really great asset that we get to bring into the fold.
While Tyler Perry will have a major presence on the service, what else should consumers expect to see on BET+?
Our first original is coming from the mind of Tracy Oliver, a fast-rising producer that has had tons of success through her work on Girls Trip and the Barbershop film franchise, and we’re really excited to have her series TheFirst Wives Club premiering when the service launches in the fall. We also have a series coming from Will Packer that will premiere on the service. We want to be in business with some of the best and brightest African-American storytellers, producers and talent, so we plan to continue to build on that. We want to build a cadence for the service over the course of the first year or two of regularly providing our audience with new and exclusive original content just for BET+.
What drew you to the prospect of launching an upstart, BET-branded streaming service?
It’s a combination of two things: I’m a lifelong fan and follower of BET -- it's an important and key part of the experience of being African-American in this country. If you look at BET’s track record, its something like 17 years running in which its been the dominant player in the African-American [media] space. Unfortunately the [African-American audience] is grossly underserved in the digital space, so it's really a rich opportunity to help build an exciting business. That’s something that has alot of meaning to me personally.
You’ve also worked for Netflix … do you consider the service competition for BET+?
We have tons of respect for what Netflix is and has done in the global business, and our point of view is that we want to be complementary to what they’re doing. I don’t think it's our desire to go head-to-head with them -- we’ll try to compliment them and step into the areas where our viewers say they want more programming. We’re not trying to compete with Netflix or anyone else; we’re just trying to serve our viewers and our consumers as best as we can.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.