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BET Unveils Broadband Channel at Upfront

BET has launched a broadband channel, BET On Blast, furthering its efforts to answer advertisers' calls to offer content on emerging platforms. The site, available through BET's home page, will be updated daily with streaming video clips of TV programs, movies, music and news, some of it original to the site.

BET touted the broadband site and its other digital offerings at its New York upfront presentation to advertisers Monday night, joining the host of cable networks that have made multiplatform plays a centerpiece of their upfront pitches.

The network said it chose to launch the site, among other reasons, because its target African-American 18-34-year-old audience is more likely to watch TV and surf the Internet simultaneously.

"We are connecting with our audience in new ways every day," said BET Chairman and CEO Debra Lee, pointing to upfront marketing materials that bore the slogan "wherever, whenever, wherever."

"If you don't remember anything else from tonight, I hope you remember that phrase,"  said Lee.

This upfront marked Lee's first as the chief of the Black Entertainment Television network, having taken over from founder Bob Johnson earlier this spring. She spared no time noting that the network had seen its highest-rated season in its 25-year history. First quarter viewing was up 21% over last year, she said.

The night also marked the first upfront since BET's affiliate sales division was folded into Viacom, which bought the network for $3 billion in 2000. Viacom co-president Tom Freston and MTV Networks chairman and CEO were in a packed audience.

During a lengthy and animated presentation with appearances by rapper LL Cool J and University of Texas quarterback Vince Young and a performance by Mary J. Blige, the network's new President of Entertainment Reginald Hudlin drove home the message that BET alone was a TV network truly and consistently committed to its audience.

"The black audience does not want to be treated like a midnight booty call," he said. "That's why our audience loves us so much. We're committed. Even when they're mad at us, they love us."

Hudlin, who took the reins as entertainment chief nine months ago, said this year the network will roll out "more original shows than have ever premiered in the history of BET."

Reality programs coming this summer and fall include: DMX: Soul of a Man, which follows the hardcore rapper to his downtime spot of Carefree, Ariz.; Next Level: Vince Young, which tracks the NFL rookie-to-be after college football; Iron Ring, an Ultimate Fighting series with celebrity trainers; American Gangster, a series of profiles of famous criminals; and Black Book Diaries, late-night risqué programming targeted at women. News programming includes Meet the Faith, a weekly Sunday roundtable featuring religious leaders.

The network also pushed shows in development as being not yet finished and thus malleable to include brand integration. Shows on the development slate include College Hill Interns, a spinoff of the network's college reality show College Hill,and BET Sunday Best, a gospel music challenge cooked up by one of the producers of American Idol.