BET has been around for 35 years and has reigned as the top media brand for young African-American audiences for the past 15 years.
And at the Viacom network's upfront presentation Wednesday night, CEO Debra Lee made sure attendees were well aware of its status among African-Americans. "We are up against the most competitive TV landscape ever," Lee said. "But we are still No. 1 with the audience everyone wants."
The market BET has cornered for the better part of the past two decades is becoming more and more crowded. "No one can deny there's a lot of noise in our space," Lee said. To that end, BET is pushing harder into scripted programming with five new projects and a pair of movies.
With only two scripted series currently running—Being Mary Jane and the Kevin Hart-led Real Husbands of Hollywood, both of which are returning—BET is adding projects such as anthology series Tales, done in partnership with Tidal (directors' cuts of each episode will air on the streaming service), and Irv Gotti.
Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose has joined the pilot for drama The Yard along with Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jazz Raycole and Peyton Alex Smith. BET's other scripted series include dramedy Benched, drama Rebel and Comedy Get Down with George Lopez, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin and Charlie Murphy playing fictionalized versions of themselves with storylines based on actual events.
BET also has a pair of biopics with Laurence Fishburne portraying Nelson Mandela in Madiba and one on '80s boy band New Edition with Empire star Bryshere Gray on board as Michael Bivins. The network also added four unscripted projects as well.
On the digital side, BET will relaunch BET.com on April 27 along with its BET Now mobile app. The network also has reached a new partnership with Snapchat to launch a two-day BET Awards and BET Experience Snapchat Live Story that will give advertisers access to BET's social community. The network says monthly unique visitors to its online platforms have grown 188 percent over the past year.
Along with Snapchat, BET has a partnership with WhoSay to launch "BET AA-Fluencers," which will see content shared by more than 2,000 urban personalities and millennial influencers and give brands a chance to reach BET's young, African-American audience.
"BET Digital continues to trail-blaze innovation for our fans, reflecting their passions in original immersive content on everything that affects and touches our community," said Kay Madati, evp and chief digital officer at BET Networks. "The evolution of our digital ecosystem elevates and matches our users' top quality expectations and upgrades their video discovery experience with engaging interactive content across multiple platforms."