In its first major cable initiative under Viacom Inc., Black Entertainment
Television said it will launch a new suite of digital-cable networks.
But it must execute the launch without one of its most vocal and influential
executives. Curtis Symonds was relieved of his post as executive vice president
of affiliate relations in a major executive reorganization, according to sources
close to the situation.
The new BET digital suite will consist of BET on Jazz: The Jazz Channel, BET
International, BET Gospel, BET Classic Soul and BET Hip-Hop. It's unclear how
much the programmer will charge for the package.
BET on Jazz has the most distribution of the digital networks, reaching about
7 million homes.
It's unclear whether BET is close to striking any digital-suite deals, but
some small and midsized operators said distribution efforts could be hampered by
growing bad blood between Viacom and operators over licensing increases for
other Viacom-owned networks.
Some operators -- particularly smaller MSOs -- are concerned over a current
proposal to increase fees for TNN: The National Network by as much as 100
percent if systems don't also carry sister service Country Music Television.
Executives at small MSOs said TNN's current 20-cent to 30-cent fee could grow
to as much as 50 cents if they choose not to carry the country-music
Operators said Viacom could continue to exert substantial leverage on
licensing fees given its vast network lineup, including in future negotiations
for BET and BET on Jazz.
A BET spokesman said it doesn't expect any problems with operators. He added
that the network's affiliate-relations staff, and not Viacom's, will negotiate
deals. BET expects to continue to have 'an excellent rapport' with operators
going forward, the spokesman said.
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