Centric to Center on African-American Women

Viacom-owned BET and Centric are approaching this upfront season with an eye toward securing their appeal among African-American women.

Five-year-old Centric is repositioning itself to target young African-American women following a recent content-development deal with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment, which will create several original series for the network. Earlier, it had been more generically targeting African-Americans ages 25-54, an older audience than BET’s core.

BET will continue seeking female viewers with new original shows including the ambitious miniseries The Book of Negroes, about a young female slave and her journey to freedom.

“It’s a very sought-after demographic right now, and we’ve been servicing that market for more than 30 years on BET and five years on Centric, so it just made perfect sense for us,” BET Networks CEO Debra Lee told Multichannel News.

Centric had its best-ever first quarter in 2014, with a primetime average of 86,000 viewers, up 19% from Q1 of 2013, according to Nielsen.

“We were already brainstorming about the idea of changing the positioning of Centric before the Queen Latifah deal, because it was already resonating with black women, and nobody else had claimed that space, so we decided to claim it,” Lee said.

African-American women watch more television than any other group, averaging more than 25 hours of television a month, 25% more than white women (the next highest category) and double that of Latinas.

Bravo, WE tv and VH1 have also gone after that audience, with reality shows such as Real Housewives of Atlanta, Braxton Family Values and Love and Hip Hop, respectively.

“African-American women control more than $20 billion in buying power, and no other networks inspire and address their unique perspectives than BET and Centric,” Lee said. “We’re proud that we [target African-American women] every day and not just one or two nights a week. You have to respect the demographic, as well as celebrate and inspire it. We think we bring that unique perspective to the table.”

Flavor Unit will bring to 51 million-subscriber Centric the fourth season of scripted drama series Single Ladies, recently canceled by Viacom-owned VH1. Centric also secured rights to earlier seasons, Lee said.

The production company will create at least two other original projects for Centric, Lee said, though no further details were available at press time.

Flavor Unit-produced daily talker The Queen Latifah Show will run on primetime on Centric after airing in syndication on local broadcast stations.

BET’s upfront this Wednesday (April 23) in New York will feature African-American female-targeted projects including the sixhour The Book of Negroes, based on a novel by Lawrence Hill and starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Louis Gossett Jr.

BET this year will also debut Gone Gospel a reality series putting popular artists from different musical genres together under one roof to rebuild their careers through singing inspirational music.

BET’s strong 2013 included launching two new successful original series, drama Being Mary Jane and comedy Real Husbands of Hollywood. Both will return with new seasons this year. The network drew 836,000 primetime viewers during Q1 of 2014, up 9% compared with a year ago.

“We’re in an enviable position where we have returning hits like The Game and Being Mary Jane, so now it’s about finding other shows that will capture the imagination of our audience,” Lee 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.