BETs Action PPV Faces Unclear Future

Industry executives are wondering about the future of pay-per-view network BET Action Pay-Per-View in the wake of Viacom Inc.'s recent deal to buy out Black Entertainment Television.

Some affiliates are concerned that the single-channel, niche-targeted PPV service with a limited subscriber base may not survive for long without the financial backing of a major multimedia conglomerate.

The Action/Adventure PPV service, which has about 9 million subscribers, was not part of the $3 billion agreement under which Viacom bought BET and its affiliated services. Instead, the service remains controlled by BET Holdings Inc., which is owned by BET chairman Robert Johnson, Liberty Media Group and BET president and COO Debra Lee.

It's unclear whether BET Holdings will continue to maintain the PPV service, or sell it to another company.

Representatives from BET would only say that the owners have not yet determined a course of action for the network.

Sources close to the situation said the network would most likely be sold, possibly to a company outside of the PPV industry.

They also said Showtime Networks Inc. may have an interest in purchasing the beleaguered network. In the past, SNI and Action have simulcast Showtime-televised boxing matches in an effort to reach non-Showtime affiliates.

Representatives from Showtime would not comment on the matter. But that scenario seems unlikely, as Viacom also owns the premium channel.

Viacom agreed to buy all of BET Holdings' other networks, including BET on Jazz.

Industry executives believe the network's limited subscriber base and In Demand's current dominance of the current PPV business made the network unattractive to Viacom. In Demand is owned by four top MSOs-AT&T Broadband, Time Warner Inc., Cox Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp.

Despite its association with the successful Black Entertainment Television brand, Action has struggled to get widespread distribution within the PPV universe.

While the network distributes several blockbuster titles, its primary focus is on urban-oriented movies and adult programming-categories that have proven to be successful in the PPV universe.

But the network has remained stagnant in a PPV industry that has expanded into a multichannel environment through the advance of digital-cable technology. BET Action's chief PPV network competitors, In Demand and TVN Entertainment Inc., have taken advantage of the increase in PPV channels through digital cable to offer well over 30 channels of near video-on-demand movies, events and specials. But BET Action remained a limited one-channel service.

Nevertheless, the service has served as a successful alternative to the mainstream In Demand PPV network, particularly in urban markets where action-adventure programming plays well.

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.