BET Eyes New Networks

TCA Photo Gallery

Beverly Hills, Calif. -- BET is exploring the launch of several new linear and broadband channels for distribution as early as next year, president Debra Lee told Multchannel News Sunday.

Lee, who spoke to MCN immediately after BET's Television Critics Association tour session here, said the network will look to create several channels over the next year that would compliment the 85 million-subscriber BET channel and its sister 26 million-subscriber BET J service, although she would not reveal specifics. Potential offerings could include aamily, gospel and women’s channels, according to executives close to the company.

She said the new services could take the form of either linear cable channels, video-on-demand services or broadband-video channels.  

Lee feels that the momentum the network is building through its lineup of original reality and scripted fare will help make it easier to launch the new services. At its TCA presentation, BET announced several new fall shows, including its first animated scripted-comedy show, BUFU; American Idol-like gospel competition series Sunday Best; and town-hall news program Hip Hop vs. America which will take a close look at the merits and faults of the hip-hop community.

BET is also poised to launch a scripted series in 2008 dubbed Somebodies about a group of 20-something “slackers” caught between graduating from college and finding a real career. A second scripted series, Wifey -- a co production with VH1 -- is also in development and could debut later this year.

On the ratings front, BET’s 0.6 second-quarter primetime-household rating was flat compared to the same period in 2005.

“I want BET networks to be the frontier for great original content whether it’s for mature adult African-Americans, kids or women,” Lee said. “So if we can create more channels that work with that strategy, then [cable operators] should trust enough to know that we’re going to do that and do it well.”

R. Thomas Umstead

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.