BET is one of the top television networks when it comes to music programming, reaching more than 84 million homes in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. The network is known not just for music, but also for providing contemporary entertainment that speaks to young black adults from the viewpoint of the black experience.
Stephen Hill, the network’s executive VP in charge of music and entertainment, has his finger on the pulse of the music business. In addition to managing and directing the creation, development and production of all music programming for the network, he oversees the production of the urban music show “106 & Park” and the BET rap series “Rap City” and serves as executive producer for the BET Awards and BET Hip-Hop Awards. He spoke with TelevisionWeek correspondent Allison J. Waldman about the current state of music on BET and the prospects for future music programming on his network.
TelevisionWeek: What would you say is the overall philosophy of BET’s music programming?
Stephen Hill: At BET, we want to present and represent artists and music that are popular and relevant, and that add to the forwarding of black culture. Our music and presentations should reflect the culture, but there is an element of leading and shaping that culture as well. BET’s music programming should be of the people, of “the now” and of “the soon.”
TVWeek: What kind of success have you had in terms of becoming a hub for music? What kind of success have you had in terms of artists seeking out BET to reach audiences with their new musical projects?
Mr. Hill: For years, “106 & Park” has been the most-watched daily music show. It’s become a target destination for artists as wide-ranging as Lenny Kravitz to Jay-Z, from T-Pain to *NSYNC, from Mariah Carey to T.I., from Plies to Madonna. Even as there has been a proliferation of music content in other spaces, we’ve been fortunate that labels and artists see BET, and “106 & Park” specifically, as necessities when it comes to breaking and showcasing new acts.
TVWeek: How has music on BET evolved in the digital age? Does it cross into other platforms?
Mr. Hill: BET.com has always been an integral part of the network. Our audience can’t live without their devices and it makes sense for us to be where they are with our compelling content; we want to be a ubiquitous brand. We are always focused on developing exciting digital executions for every relevant platform. Two prime examples of our evolution are BET Mobile, which launched the first mobile fan club for our top-rated show “106 & Park.” Members of the fan club are offered exclusive perks to their favorite show and artists. Most recently, we launched 106 & Park Connect, a social network that offers our savvy audience another alternative to accessing their favorite stars and music.
TVWeek: What works and doesn’t work for BET in terms of music programming—for instance, the type of programs: concerts, video countdowns, behind-the-scenes, documentary, biographies?
Mr. Hill: Our behind-the-scenes show “Access Granted” and concert series “Blueprint” work well, especially with a very popular act [featured]. Straight music videos don’t work as well as they used to, but “106 & Park” proves that videos will work with entertainment and excitement built around them.
TVWeek: What are the opportunities for growth of BET music programming in the future?
Mr. Hill: Young folks still have a thirst for new music and interesting artists. We can do a better job of connecting our audience to those artists both on-air and in the digital space. I also think we can do a better job of giving our music programming an even stronger “personality.”
TVWeek: What do you think have been BET’s biggest success stories in TV music programming?
Mr. Hill: For BET music, we measure our success not only in ratings, but also in the numbers of careers we have helped launch: John Legend, Chris Brown, Nelly, Lil Wayne, Keyshia Cole, Kanye West, T-Pain, Alicia Keys and more. And what’s great is that pop artists realize that involving themselves with BET can help expand their audiences—like *NSYNC, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. Madonna stopped by the set of exactly one U.S. show the last time she was in the States: BET’s “106 & Park.”
TVWeek: How have changes in the recording industry affected BET’s music programming?
Mr. Hill: It’s no secret that music on TV is dwindling. BET remains committed to showcasing black music, artists and culture. We will continue to work tirelessly with the labels to continue to garner exposure for their artists.