Centric’s Mix Finds a Niche

Approaching its second anniversary, Centric has found a niche among its target adult African-American audience and multicultural crossover viewers.

With acquired shows, notably The Cosby Show, and original specials including the Soul Train Awards, the nearly 50 millionsubscriber channel co-owned by Viacom’s BET Networks and MTV Networks is building a base of loyal 24-to-54-year-old multicultural viewers looking for nostalgic-buthip programming.

“What we wanted to do with Centric is produce a product that was rooted in American culture that appealed to African-American and multicultural adults,” Paxton Baker, Centric’s general manager, said.

“We’ve put together a nice bouquet of different things — on the acquisition side, it’s comedy lifestyle, but it’s that nostalgic retro component that makes people feel good.”


A reformatting of BET J (which itself initially launched as BET on Jazz in the mid 1990s), Centric launched in 2009 looking to reach out to adult African- American viewers not targeted by the more youthful- oriented BET. It has grown BET J’s base of 32 million homes past the announced goal of reaching 45 million homes by 2010.

Centric’s formula is to blend popular off -network acquisitions such as The Cosby Show, 90’s ensemble variety show In Living Color and TheFlip Wilson Show, with more mainstream series such as Miami Vice, adding in original music shows such as As Written (about artists and their new projects) and Being (a one-hour music documentary series highlighting classic R&B artists) to achieve a lineup with broad audience appeal and ratings momentum.

For third quarter 2011, Centric posted a 21% primetime audience gain, to an average of 76,000 viewers in all demos, up from 63,000 in the same period a year ago, according to Nielsen live plus seven day data. Its household rating average (which measures viewing within a network’s universe) in primetime rose 18%, to 0.13 from 0.11 a year ago.

“Some shows, like The A-Team, have 50% non-African-American viewership, so we’ve put together a blend of programs that hit our target audience but at the same time reach people who are urban multicultural adults who are looking for a cool alternative by way of a cable channel,” Baker said.

The network has also benefited from its partnership with the iconic music show Soul Train. The Soul Train Awards has been a ratings draw, averaging 4 million viewers across the simulcast on both BET and Centric during its first two years on air.

This year’s version, which will air on Nov. 27, will be hosted by comedian Cedric the Entertainer, and will pay tribute to R&B legends Earth, Wind and Fire and Gladys Knight.


The network has also been successful with music takeover weekend stunts where the network profiles one artist through music videos, interview segments and concerts. A May segment with R&B crooner R. Kelly drew more than 2.2 million cumulative viewers, the biggest weekend audience in network history. The network is planning other takeover weekends featuring Keith Sweat and ’80s group The Time.

“Our goal is to do one artist weekend a month going forward,” he said.

The bulk of 2012’s original programming will be musicbased, but in 2013 Baker said the network will ramp up new non-music original shows focused on the documentary and lifestyle genres, although he would not disclose specific titles.

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.