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BET's Debra Lee: A La Carte Would 'Destroy' Cable Diversity

Black Entertainment Television Chairman Debra Lee says that her cable network has provided a diversity of views that are otherwise lacking on broadcasting, and voiced her opposition to a la carte by saying it would "destroy the diversity of cable."

She continued to say that a la carte " really flies in the face of the [cable] business model."

Lee made those assertions in an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series scheduled for airing over the weekend.

Asked about her relationship with FCC Kevin Martin, who has pushed the a la carte model from both a content-control and a business standpoint, she said she had met him "a couple of times," and that it was a good relationship. " I just don't agree with him on a la carte."

Lee also talked about the move of programming to new platforms.

"Last year was the first year you really saw a shift away from TV, and the story is that it's going to
digital and we're beginning to see more of that," she said.

Advertisers are "struggling" to figure out how to adapt to that shift, she said, whether its product
placement, virtual ads or Internet ads.

Lee said is "close to profitable." Parent Viacom recently bought out the interest of partners Microsoft and Liberty and now owns the site outright.

Lee said that the cable net's basic cable penetration is "fairly well saturated" in the U.S. except for a
few small pockets, "maybe in Idaho, but we are working on those."

Lee conceded that most of its programming comes out of New York--and increasingly out of L.A.-- but said she expected BET's corporate headquarters to remain in D.C., where the network was founded by Bob Johnson 26 years ago.

On the issue of indecency, she pointed out that cable was under no such regulations, but said the channel
takes its cue from broadcasting. "We keep close tabs on what broadcasters are doing and we try to abide by that." She also conceded the network had been criticized for content issues related to its music videos. Primarily under fire, as the C-SPAN interviewer put it, were videos with "sexual themes or celebrating a "thug" lifestyle."

She said that a lot of it is the expression of the hip-hop lifestyle and she likens it to when " Elvis or
James Brown or Little Richard came out and critics said 'this is going to destroy our young people' and, of
course, it didn't."

But she also said there were teams of executives who reviewed programming and when they have a problem, will send a video back to the record label. ""We're going to have some edgy programming," she said. "But we
also think about what we put on the air."

Lee said the news division is alive and well. BET canceled its 11 p.m. news about a year ago, but continues to offer cut-ins throughout the day. They also provide specials and online news.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.