Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yet Another "Grown & Sexy" BET Channel?!? I'll Pass.

Time has a strange way of healing old wounds. As much as BET has generally annoyed me in the past, I now find myself watching it on a regular basis. There's no real explanation for why, but AverageSis and I suddenly find ourselves enthralled by 106 & Park's Freestyle Fridays segment, and now tune in every week to see who'll win. If the thought of two suburban thirtysomethings tuning in to watch a "freestyle rap battle" where a couple of suburban wannabe rappers spit obviously prewritten "battle raps" is puzzling to you, then welcome to BizzaroWorld.

I can't say I watch anything else on BET, but that 10 minutes a week gives it a leg up on it's main competitors for urban eyes, Cathy Hughes' TVOne and BET's own "grown & sexy" offspin, BET J. While I was a stan for TVOne initially, the furor has definitely quelled. I have no idea what they show there anymore, because everytime I hit the channel guide, all I see is Good Times marathons and lousy 80's B-movies like The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (whoaaa whoa!). I'll pass. Ditto for BET J, which seems to always be showing that damn Best Shorts or shows like My Two Cents which have abominable public-access cable grade production quality. At least someone finally dug some episodes of Caribbean Rhythms out the New York Avenue archives, so I guess it's good Rachel is getting a check. In any event, these two stations, which were supposed to be geared to my lucrative 35-44 (ouch!) demo are little more than a snoozefest of bourgeois ambition and scented candles. Epic. Fail.

Not to be deterred, Viacom has yet another trick up its sleeve.
Viacom, the owner of BET, is forming a new cable television channel for middle-aged African-Americans, heightening the competition for the minority viewing audience.

The channel, to be named Centric and scheduled to make its debut in October, will be formally announced at an event for advertisers Thursday night. Centric will complement BET, executives say, by appealing to an older and more affluent audience.

The 29-year-old BET, available in 89 million homes, is the dominant network for black audiences. It attracts roughly four times as many viewers as TV One, its main competitor, which is owned by Comcast and Radio One and available in about 47 million homes. BET, with its reality shows, movies and music videos, primarily draws a teenage and young adult audience.

Cable channel start-ups are rare. With hundreds of channels already in operation, new ones often struggle to earn a spot on cable lineups, but Viacom said it would be able to assemble 45 million homes for the premiere of Centric.

Viacom executives would not comment on whether BET J, a small music-oriented offshoot of the network, would be affected by the formation of Centric.

As Viacom considered the 25- to 54-year-old target demographic for Centric, it realized that “a perfect example would be” Barack and Michelle Obama, said Scott Mills, the president of BET.

Centric will be operated jointly by the BET and MTV Networks divisions of Viacom. Viacom’s channels include Nickelodeon and MTV. Doug Creutz, an analyst for Cowen & Company, called the niche strategy valid but incremental. “They’re not going to hit any home runs doing this, but it can grow their reach over time,” he said.

Mr. Creutz said the African-American adult audience had “been underserved,” and pointed to the series of successful movies by Tyler Perry as evidence that “there’s money to be made at targeting that audience.”
If the final sentence didn't tell you what sort of random f*ckery Centric is destined to be, I have no idea what can.

Conspicuously absent from the entire press release: News. The word ain't even in there a single time. In the age of Obama wouldn't something more than cooking shows and spoken weird poetry be a fresh and original idea?

Upon further research (cause you know I'm all about journalistic integrity and whatnot), I dug up more info on the programming for this bold new channel. Witness.
Viacom's VH1 Soul and BET J Networks are combining channel resources to create a new program outlet called Centric. Set to launch in October, the new network will take aim at Comcast/Radio One-owned TV One in targeting the 25-to 54-year-old African-American audience, while reaching out to other multicultural viewers.

BET J originally launched as BET on Jazz and features reality series and music-programs. Both BET J and VH1 Soul will continue as stand alone channels in addition to Centric's programming; Centric will start with BET J's distribution and annex channel slots allocated to VH1 Soul or possibly some other small MTVN service, rather than merge.

Centric will initially feature some original entertainment and reality shows, like "Model City," a reality show revolving around African-American models in New York City and "Keeping Up With The Joneses," which follows the exploits of a Houston-based family of entrepreneurs. R&B singer Monica will be starring in her own reality show entitled "Monica: Still Standing," set to air in October, and comedian/actress Mo'Nique will have her own nightly talk/variety show. News and public affairs programming are said to be added in the near future. [Riiiight!]

The network will also reinstate the "Soul Train Music Awards," as well as demo-targeted content - including movies and music programming from MTV, VH1, BET and other MTV Networks outlets.
Yeah, sounds like some ole' bullsh*t basically.

There may be some light at the end of the tunnel, but it could be a train for all we know.
Centric would be one of a number of African-American targeted network announcements issued over the past year.

In November, Urban Television was announced by BET founder Bob Johnson and NBC Universal's ION Media Networks.

Also last year, music rap heavyweight Master P (Percy Miller) announced Better Black Television, a more family-friendly network. More recently, Houston-based Black Broadcasting Network announced plans to launch an urban-targeted entertainment network in 2009.

In April 2008, Black Television News Channel was announced from former Congressman J.C. Watts. With a cable operator deal in tow from Comcast, it's set to launch this year.
We'll see if any of these ambitious startups actually pans out, but the lack of substance in the offerings is troubling anyway you spin it. I suppose I understand why "urban" networks go for such programming rather than news. Reality shows and sitcom reruns are cheaper and easier to produce and license. Music video shows practically pay for themselves. But still, would it kill these folks to put together just one news/opinion or political commentary show? Seriously?

Thank God for library cards.

Question: What do you think about Centric? Is there even any demand for Black-oriented news & opinion programming, or are the folks at Viacom merely giving the people what they (think they) want?

BET J, VH1 Soul To Join Forces For New Centric Network [BillBoard]

BET to Offer New Channel for Adults [NYTimes]

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