BET Touts Dominance Among Black Viewers

Apr 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Facing competition from a raft of sources, Black Entertainment Television is drawing its line in the sand.
Hosting its first-ever upfront presentation for advertisers last week, the network sought to maintain its position as the dominant network catering to African Americans. It characterized forays by broadcast networks to develop programming targeting black audiences as attempts by wannabes and dismissed altogether TV One, the fledgling network catering to older black audiences that is backed by cable giant Comcast.
Dazzling members of the advertising community with live performances by rapper Missy Elliott and songstress Alicia Keys as well as a surprise appearance by Grammy Award-winning rap duo OutKast, BET made the event as much about educating media buyers of the buying power of black consumers as it was about informing attendees of the Viacom-owned network’s dominance across all African American age groups.
BET discussed its handful of new series and specials slated to premiere in the 2004-05 season, but Tuesday’s event at the Manhattan Center Studios in New York took a tone more akin to introducing the network to the advertising community than discussing its strategy for the upcoming season.
Using a sketch that spoofed “The Twilight Zone,” the network attempted to illustrate the misconceptions that some advertisers have about African American consumers, and then countered those perceptions with statistics that detailed the community’s buying power.
Boasting more than $680 billion in buying power-with projections the amount will top $700 billion next year-African American consumers are more brand-aware than the general public and are extremely loyal to advertisers who spend to attract their dollars, BET explained to its upfront audience. Products on which black consumers spend big include cars, jewelry, movies, video games and accessories. And the best way to reach such an audience is through BET, the network said.
For BET, getting that message across is as important as ever. While BET clearly has had a lock on the black television viewing audience, reaching 98 percent of all African American homes in the United States, the Washington-based network no longer has that space to itself.
Urban radio station owner Radio One and Comcast joined forces last year to launch TV One, a cable network that went live in January as an alternative to BET, with its focus on adults 25 to 54. Though the network now has just 4 million subscribers, its financial tie to Comcast, with 21 million subscribers, could transform the channel into a real competitor to BET.
Broadcast Support
In addition, a number of broadcast networks have put energy behind shows with African American casts, including ABC’s “My Wife and Kids,” Fox’s “The Bernie Mac Show” and UPN’s “Eve.” Sister Viacom networks MTV and Comedy Central have programming that caters to blacks as well. Many of these programs have decent audiences and are becoming compelling to advertisers.
But none are viable tools with which to reach African Americans, said Louis Carr, BET’s president of advertising sales, who added that BET “stood the test of MTV” when MTV began running more videos from black artists. BET also has weathered attempts by such broadcast networks as Fox, with “In Living Color” and other series, and The WB and UPN, to build black audiences.
“We are ecstatic that [shows featuring black casts] are showcasing [black actors’] talent,” Mr. Carr said, but he derided the networks’ tactic of using black-casted series to reach a black audience as “a blackface strategy.”
“It’s not a viable way to reach African American audiences,” Mr. Carr said. “There is one television entity with a relationship to the African American community.”