BET Retunes Its Spinoff Jazz Channel

In an effort to broaden its format and audience, Black Entertainment Television will reposition its BET On Jazz network to offer additional musical rhythms and long-form entertainment programming.

The rebranded BET J network will debut March 1 with a new distribution deal with DirecTV Inc., putting it in more than 20 million homes, according to network executive vice president and general manger Paxton Baker.

While BET J will continue to offer classic jazz music videos, concert and artist-profile programming throughout the week, the network will switch tunes and program mostly Caribbean-based music programming on Saturdays and more smooth jazz and neo soul programming, featuring artists like Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, on Sundays.

“After spending time talking to affiliates and advertisers, it was determined to keep jazz as the core component of the channel, but add some other components from a musical and cultural standpoint to broaden the channel,” Baker said. “We’re now focusing on making BET J a great jazz channel during the week, and then letting the channel take on its own personality on Saturdays and Sundays with Caribbean and World music and smooth jazz and neo-soul content,” he said.

In terms of long-form entertainment fare, the network in March will launch a Black Filmmaker’s Showcase on Tuesdays and Thursdays in primetime, spotlighting short projects from up-and-coming filmmakers.

The network also wants to create a tentpole event, on the level of the BET Awards, to further build the brand and generate viewership, according to Baker. In addition, BET J will also look to create documentaries and other entertainment-based programming that chronicles the African-American experience beyond music.

“The J stands not only for jazz, but is also to showcase the complete African-American journey,” he said. “We want to bring in more Black culture programming to the channel.”

The network hopes to lure 30-something viewers who may be too old for the younger-skewing BET and too young to enjoy older-targeted content from competitor TV One. Currently, the network’s median age is 50, but with the black filmmaker content and music videos featuring such artists as Scott, Badu and Norah Jones, Baker believes the network will skew younger.

The network also hopes the change will increase distribution for the service. BET On Jazz has deals with such operators as Cablevision Systems Corp. and Time Warner Cable. The DBS carriage stems from the far-reaching deal between DirecTV and BET parent Viacom Inc., inked last year.

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.