BET Specials, Movies Prompt Record Ratings

An influx of special-event programming and movies has powered Black Entertainment Television to the highest season-to-season ratings performance in its history.

From September 2000 to May 2001, BET generated a 0.44 total-day rating, eclipsing last year's previous 24-hour high of a 0.40 rating. The performance was paced by significant increases in the network's primetime numbers.

From September to May, BET's primetime rating grew 16 percent, to a 0.67 from a 0.58 last season, said BET, citing Nielsen data.

BET senior vice president of entertainment programming Curtis Gadson said the addition of several new specials, as well as acquired movie titles, have boosted viewership.

Shows such as last fall's Harlem Block Party
— which celebrated the opening of BET's new New York City production studios — and its Walk of Fame
special with Luther Vandross have added variety to its schedule. They've also helped the network to alter the perception that it's a music-video dominated channel, according to Gadson.

The network also plans to launch its inaugural BET Awards
show on June 19, which Gadson hopes will become an annual ratings draw.

BET has also extended its "Black Star Power Cinema" movie franchise to Monday nights, giving it three nights of high-rated, African American-oriented film programming.

The programming changes paid off handsomely in April, when specials such as BET's Spring Bling
coverage of spring-break concerts in Florida and the premiere of the originally produced movie Fire & Ice
helped the network set an all-time monthly sign-on to sign-off average of a 0.49, said director of corporate marketing Matthew Barnhill, who cited Nielsen figures. (BET's sign-on to sign-off period encompasses Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon and from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.)

Gadson attributed the change in programming philosophy to research, which outlined viewer dissatisfaction with the network's typical schedule of music videos and off-network sitcoms.

"They wanted to see less predictability in our schedule," Gadson said. "We're in the business of giving the viewers want to see instead of what we think they want to see."

In a further reflection of viewer attitudes toward the network, Gadson said BET will no longer strip its primetime schedule — comprised off- network sitcoms, music-video programming and the popular Comic View.
Instead, it will offer more of a checkerboard lineup, featuring different shows each night.

BET has also added more news and documentary programs to its lineup this season, despite the firing of popular talk show host Tavis Smiley. The network intends to continue with that strategy next year.

"The specials have helped, but there's been an overall change in the network's philosophy and how we schedule our programming," Gadson said.

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.