In 2017, Viacom International Media Networks announced the launch of BET Play (an international offshoot of BET Networks), its first-ever direct-to-consumer, subscription video on demand (SVOD) service that was not available for U.S. customers. That will soon change, as the conglomerate is reportedly preparing to launch a new BET Networks-based standalone SVOD service that will target specifically African-American audiences. According to the Wall Street Journal, it will be called BET+, and will begin operations in the fall. Pricing hasn’t been finalized at this time.
The new BET+ service is expected to carry original content – TV series and movies – that will only be available on the platform and exclusive to the service for 18 months. The content would then be eligible to run on the BET cable channel.
The new service will be home to original programming from Tyler Perry, who the WSJ says will become a financial stakeholder in the new service – expanding his current five-year production agreement with Viacom.
Owning a TV network has long been an aspiration for Perry, who, in 2011, considered launching a cable TV network with Lionsgate’s backing. To be called “Tyler TV,” it was to debut with a mix of reruns of Perry’s series, as well as matching acquired content. Becoming a financial stakeholder in BET+ is very much in line with those early ambitions.
BET+ will also include content from Perry’s Tyler Perry Studios production arm, as well as from producer Will Packer (“Girls Trip,” “What Men Want”), and acquired series and movies from Viacom sister networks MTV, Comedy Central and VH1.
More content alliances will be announced closer to launch.
The service is a logical one for Viacom/BET. African Americans love TV; according to Nielsen, it’s a demographic that watches 37% more television than any other. And the TV industry has taken note: Of the nearly 500 scripted series across broadcast, cable, and streaming in the last season, at least 60 were headlined by black actors.
However, most of them didn’t appear on any of the black TV networks, including BET, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, Bounce TV, or TV One. 70% of the black-headlined shows ran on other networks and streamers.
All of which begs the question: As networks with significantly deeper pockets aggressively pursue the African-American audience, and black audiences continue to gravitate towards online platforms for their content, do black TV networks risk losing relevance?
Viacom and BET see the writing on the wall, and the launch of BET+ is likely an answer to that question, especially as more media companies pivot to streaming as traditional pay TV subs continue to decline. Other streaming services scheduled to launch in coming months include offerings from Walt Disney Co. and AT&T Inc.’s WarnerMedia.
A marketplace saturated with networks that target black audiences might seem like progress, but without competitive programming to attract that in-demand audience in all its diversity, success isn’t assured. And so for Viacom, entering an already crowded field of streaming-video services relatively late in the game, and persuading consumers to subscribe – even if the price is low – could be challenging without compelling content.
“This really suggests quite a significant opportunity to complement the services that are out there,” the WSJ source said. “This is not about replacing a Netflix or replacing a Hulu or replacing an Amazon.”
At launch, BET+ will be available on Android devices, Amazon Fire, Roku and Apple TV. Ads for unveiling the new streaming service are expected to debut during the BET Awards on June 23; one will reportedly feature Perry in conversation about the service with his big screen alter ego Madea.
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