You might say this network gives cable TV some street cred. Black Entertainment Television operates BET, the leading cable channel targeting young African-American audiences with a mix of entertainment, music, and news programming. Reaching about 91 million US homes, BET boasts a lineup that includes 106 & Park (music videos); BET Awards and Soul Train Awards (award shows); Harlem Heights (reality shows); The Game (scripted series), and Sunday Best (gospel music). The network is the flagship property of BET Networks, which includes sister outlets BET Gospel, BET Hip Hop, and Centric (targeting multicultural viewers). Launched in 1980, BET is owned by media conglomerate Viacom.
BET, like other cable outlets in the Viacom family, appeals to a specific audience segment with targeted programming. The network also fills an important role as one of only a handful (but a growing number) of media properties that target minority audiences. Its cable networks, which generate revenue primarily through advertising and carriage fees paid by cable system operators, account for about 60% of Viacom's business.
For most of its history BET has been anchored by music video shows, but the channel has followed the lead of sister network MTV and other networks by investing in original entertainment programming to attract and retain viewers. Newer shows include Tiny & Toya (a reality-based program), Monica: Still Standing (an unscripted look at the singer's daily life), and The Mo'Nique Show (late night talk show).
The latest network to join the BET family, called Centric, is designed to expand the company's audience beyond the young African-American demographic. Centric targets older and more affluent viewers with programs including Keeping Up with the Joneses (high-society in Houston), Leading Men (highlighting the lives of prominent African-American men), and Urban Livin' (interior design and home improvement). Centric also competes more directly with TV One, a cable network joint venture operated by Radio One and cable operator Comcast.
BET was founded by entrepreneur and former cable lobbyist Robert Johnson. Along with Liberty Media, he sold the growing media empire to Viacom for $3 billion in 2001. (Johnson later became the first black majority owner of a sports team when he bought the NBA expansion Charlotte Bobcats. He sold control of the franchise in 2010.)
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