BET, MTVN Unveil Centric

BET and MTV Networks are
very quietly soft-launching Centric, a new basic-cable network aimed at
African-American adults, on Monday (Sept. 28).

BET is rebranding its nearly 32 million subscriber BET J networkunder the Centric moniker, which will target African-American viewers with
music and lifestyle programming, according to Centric general manager Paxton

The BET and MTV Networks
venture was first announced this past April during BET's
upfront presentation to advertisers. Both programmers are owned by Viacom.

BET J (formerly BET
on Jazz) has deals with such key distributors as DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and
Cablevision Systems.

During the upfront, BET
executives projected the network would have 45 million viewers at launch. At
the time, sources close to network said that Centric would also inherit the
lion's share of subscribers from MTV digital channel VH1 Soul to meet its
announced distribution goals.

But BET Networks
president and chief operating officer Scott Mills told Multichannel News
that Centric -- handled by MTV Networks' affiliate-sales team, but otherwise run
by BET -- would instead work with affiliates
to reach 45 million subscribers by 2010.

"We're pretty confident that as long as the product does
well and we work closely with our affiliate partners, people will be optimistic
about the network," Mills said. "We don't think our distribution will have to
come from another place."

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

"We want the network to be reflective of programming that
African-Americans and people in general can be proud of," Baker said.

While the network is officially on the air Sept. 28, BET
and MTV are not planning any major marketing campaigns for the channel until
2010. For the immediate future, Centric will run cross-promotional spots
through such MTV Networks properties as VH1, MTV and BET.

"This our soft launch, so we didn't mind putting it out in
this time frame," Mills said. "We'll do a very big, noisy launch in January,
but we know our audience is excited about what we're about to do so, we're
putting it out there."

As for the programming, the network for the short-term will
rely on acquired reality and music programming fare from its sister networks,
including such shows as MTV's Run's House and VH1's The Salt-N-Pepa
and I Want To Work for Diddy, said Baker.

Centric will also feature new shows originally slated to
premiere this fall on BET J, including Leading
Men, Lyrical Café
and Urban Living, said Baker.

Also on tap for the fourth quarter is the relaunch of the
Soul Train Music Awards
in November, after a two-year hiatus from

The network will also air classic episodes from the long-running
Soul Train syndicated music/dance series, including singer Michael
Jackson's first appearance on the show as a member of The Jackson Five. The
network will pay homage to the "King of Pop," who died this past June, with a
Jackson-themed primetime programming block during its first night on-air,
Paxton said.

Baker said the network will launch its own slate of
original programming in the first quarter of 2010. Some original shows already
slated for the channel include ModelCity, a reality show about African-American models in New York City; and Keeping Up With
The Joneses
, which follows the exploits of a Houston-based female

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.