Singer Tyrese was dubbed the "Mayor" of the BET upfront presentation Thursday night at New York's Jazz at Lincoln Center. His constituents included Ludacris, Brandy, Kelly Rowland, Mack Wilds, Whoopi Goldberg and Queen Latifah.
The night was full of surprises, including veteran rapper MC Lyte's elaborate "freestyle" about the Viacom network's ratings success, and boxers Andre Ward and Paul Smith came on stage to promote BET's first boxing event—part of a Roc Nation sponsorship; and a performer dubbed "Nelson Nielsen" interrupted the presentation to explain how he's the only black man in America with a Nielsen box.
"We are the trendsetters; we are the influencers," said BET president of ad sales media Louis Carr. "We believe that black consumers experience our content—our sites, everything that we do—in a much different way than they do any other media company because of the relationship that they have with us."
The network that delivers more African-American viewers than any other is adding seven new programs:
- Chasing Destiny: Kelly Rowland searches for the next Destiny's Child.
- About the Business: A docu-series following a group of friends in urban Hollywood.
- Criminals at Work: A docu-crime series about crimes committed in the workplace.
- Zoe Moon: Brandy plays a single mother in this sitcom.
- The Label: A docu-series about the rise and fall of classic record labels.
- DeSean Jackson: Home team: A series about the women who run the NFL star's life.
- Punk'd: A reboot of the prank show tailored for a BET audience.
"We've got a slate of programing coming up that's going to engage our audience," BET president of programming Stephen G. Hill said, before refusing to pick a favorite new show. "It's like picking your favorite child."
New movies and specials announced include:
- RocNation Sports Live Boxing
- Brotherly Love
- November Rule
Hill said BET plans to change the way it does news by favoring quarterly specials. One such news program is Justice & Race, which takes a look at the criminal justice system. Other upcoming BET News specials include:
- Katrina: 10 Years Later
- O.J. Simpson: 20 Years Later
- Muhammad Ali
"Entertainment can be relevant, but it is also very clear that our audience wants to be connected, through us, to other parts of the community," Hill said. "What's happening with race and the justice system is something that is crucial for us to show on BET."
BET also announced several returning hit shows and specials:
- The Game (the final season)
- Being Mary Jane (BET's first one-hour original drama)
- Bobby Jones Gospel
- Real Husbands of Hollywood
- It's a Mann's World
- 2015 BET Awards
- BET Hip Hop Awards
- Black Girls Rock
- Celebration of Gospel
- The BET Honors
Bobby Jones will retire after this season, BET announced, bringing an end to Bobby Jones Gospel, the longest-continuously-running original cable TV show.
BET is also focusing on digital content, and BET.com announced a new video series called #BLX Sports Edition. BET ranked among the top 25 most social brands of 2014, one of only four networks to make the list. It's also the only multicultural targeted brand on the list and continues to set trends worldwide with a digital footprint of 60 million users.
Latifah's role in the presentation was to discuss BET's sister station, Centric, the first network intended for black women. Centric is one of the fastest-growing, ad-supported cable networks among women. Whoopi Goldberg will ep a new show for Centric called According to Alex.