Skip to main content

BET, MTV Take Aim At TV One With Centric Network

Viacom's BET Networks and MTV Networks are combining channel resources to create a new programming outlet, Centric, set to launch in October, targeting African-American adults, network officials said.

The new network will take aim at Comcast/Radio One-owned TV One in targeting the 25- to 54-year-old African-American audience, while also reaching out to other multicultural audiences.

BETN officials say it will launch with 45 million subscribers, a sizeable base for a new channel. BET Networks will handle its operations, with BET J executive vice president and general manager Paxton Baker (pictured) overseeing the new venture.

Multichannel News reported earlier this month that Baker would oversee a channel that combined BET J and MTVN's VH1 Soul, two existing digital networks that between them are in about 47 million homes, and that the announcement could come at BET's April 23 upfront in New York, which is when Centric is expected to be announced.

The story also indicated behind-scenes drama could cause those plans to change, though, and noted BET downplayed talk of combining the channels, indicating BET J would be "refreshed" instead.

BETN president and COO Scott Mills said Wednesday BET J and VH1 Soul are not merging. Mills said "we have within our universe today between MTVN and BETN existing
distribution to deploy against the launch of
this network ... we will work very closely with our affiliate partners to hopefully achieve this goal."

"What we're creating is a brand-new network targeted to adult, upscale,
sophisticated and aspirational African-American and multicultural
audiences," Mills said.

BET J (originally launched as BET on Jazz) and VH1 Soul are African-American targeted channels that complement each other with carriage on top U.S. distributors. BET J has key carriage on DirecTV and on No. 2 cable operator Time Warner Cable, while VH1 Soul and other MTVN digital channels have stronger Comcast carriage.

BET J, which features reality series and music content, is in about 27
million homes. VH1 Soul, with music video programming, is in about 20 million homes.

Potentially, Centric could start with BET J's distribution and annex channel slots allocated to VH1 Soul or possibly some other small MTVN service, rather than merging. In 2007, Gospel Music Channel's owners bought Black Family Channel, adding BFC's 16 million homes to Gospel's previous 10 million homes. Black Family Channel shut down.

Centric will initially feature entertainment/reality fare, but Baker said it could offer some news and public affairs programming in the near future.

Some original shows already slated for the channel include Model City, a reality show revolving around African-American models in New York City, and Keeping Up With The Joneses, which follows the exploits of a Houston-based female entrepreneur.

The network will also reinstate the Soul Train Music Awards, which has been off the air for several years. "The Soul Train brand resonates with older audiences, so by bringing that back we can really speak to that target audience of African-Americans," Mills said.

In addition, the new network will offer demo-targeted content -- including movies and music programming -- from MTV, VH1, BET and other MTV Networks outlets.

Centric's older-skewing content would complement BET's younger-skewing programming fare, while providing Viacom a viable competitor to the four-year-old TV One service, which currently counts some 47 million subscribers.

"We think that we have a unique way of serving that demo that no one else can in the space," Baker said.

Centric is the latest in a flurry of new African-American targeted network announcements over the past year -- although it's the first to have major entertainment media company backing.

In February, Houston-based upstart Black Broadcasting Network announced plans to launch an urban-targeted entertainment network later in 2009.

Last November, BET founder Bob Johnson teamed with broadcast network ION Media Networks on plans to create Urban Television, an entertainment-based network targeting the African-American community.

Last August, hip-hop mogul Master P (Percy Miller) unveiled plans for Better Black Television, a family-friendly network providing positive content.

And last April, former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) announced the creation of the Black Television News Channel, a 24-hour news service for African-Americans slated to launch sometime this year. The service has secured "a hunting license" with Comcast.

R. Thomas Umstead
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.