Black Entertainment Television (BET, part of BET Networks) is an American, Viacom-owned cable network based in Atlanta, Georgia. Currently viewed in more than 90 million homes worldwide, it is the most prominent television network targeting young African American audiences. The network was launched on January 25, 1980, by its founder, Robert L. Johnson. Most programming of the network comprises mainstream hip hop music and R&B music videos and urban-oriented movies and series.
Its programming began with a wide scope of comedy, music, public affairs, and news programming: ComicView; Video Soul with Donnie Simpson, Video Vibrations, Softones, Unreal/Planet Groove/Caribbean Rhythms, Jam Zone/Cita's World; Teen Summit; and BET News with Ed Gordon, Lead Story, BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley, and BET Nightly News. In 2000 it began to be heavily focused on music and completely cut its news division.
Its urban music programming show 106 & Park debuted then. Taped before a live audience, the hosts count down the top videos requested by viewers and inviting rap and R&B artists to promote their music. Additionally, the channel shows syndicated television series, original programs, and some public affairs programs. On Sunday mornings, BET broadcasts a lineup of network-produced Christian programming and gospel music; other, non-affiliated Christian programs are also shown during the early morning hours daily. BET has been the target of criticism and protests for broadcasting videos and programs accused of promoting immorality and stereotypes.
After stepping down as a lobbyist for the cable industry, Freeport, Illinois, native Robert L. Johnson decided to launch his own cable television network. Johnson would soon acquire a loan for $15,000, and earned a $500,000 investment from John Malone to start the network. BET began broadcasting on January 25, 1980. Initially, the network lineup consisted of music videos and reruns of popular black sitcoms.
BET launched a news program, BET News, in 1988, with Ed Gordon as the anchor. Gordon would later host other programs and specials on BET, such asBlack Men Speak Out: The Aftermath, related to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and a recurring interview show Conversations with Ed Gordon. In 1996, the talk show BET Tonight debuted with Tavis Smiley as host; in 2001, Ed Gordon replaced Tavis Smiley. In 2002, as part of a reorganization focusing on entertainment productions, BET cut its news staff and canceled BET Tonight along with other public affairs shows hosted by Gordon, Lead Story and Teen Summit. From 2001 to July 29, 2005, BET had a daily evening news program BET Nightly News, hosted by Michelle Miller and Jacque Reid.
In 1991, the network became the first black-controlled company on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2003, the network was no longer a black owned business when it was bought by media conglomerate Viacom for $3 billion. In 2005, Johnson retired from the network, turning over his titles as President and Chief Executive Officer to Debra L. Lee, a former Vice President.
Following the death of civil rights leader Coretta Scott King in 2006, BET broadcast its regularly scheduled music video programming rather than cover King's funeral live as CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and BET competitors TV One and Black Family Channel were. The BET website streamed the funeral live; BET broadcast taped, 60-second reports periodically from the funeral by senior news correspondent Andre Showell. Michael Lewellen, BET's senior vice president for corporate communications, defended the decision: "We weighed a number of different options. In the end, we chose to offer a different kind of experience for BET viewers." Lewellen also said that BET received around "two dozen" phone calls and "a handful" of emails criticizing BET for not showing the King funeral live. On the evening of the funeral day (February 7, 2006), BET broadcast tribute special Coretta Scott King: Married to the Mission and repeated it the following Sunday, February 12. Showell hosted a program featuring highlights of the funeral, Coretta Scott King: Celebrating Her Spirit, that broadcast that same day. In its 2007 convention, the National Association of Black Journalists gave BET its Thumbs Down Award for not broadcasting King's funeral live.
In 2007, the network expanded into other BET-related digital cable networks: Centric, BET Hip-Hop, and BET Gospel. BET also launched a batch of original programming, including reality showsBaldwin Hills and Hell Date, competition show Sunday Best, and town hall-style discussion show Hip Hop vs. America. BET also Network President of Entertainment, Reginald Hudlin, resigned on September 11, 2008. He was then replaced by Stephen Hill, who is also Executive Vice President of Music Programming and Talent.
The New York Times reported that the Reverend Delman L. Coates and his organization Enough is Enough led protests every weekend outside the residences of BET executives against what they claim are negative stereotypes of black people perpetuated by BET music videos. Enough is Enough backed an April 2008 report titled The Rap on Rap by the Parents Television Council that claimed that BET rap programming, which they believed contained gratuitous sexual, violent, and profane content, was targeting children and teens.
BET announced in March 2010 that Gordon would return to the network to host "a variety of news programs and specials."
In a 2010 interview, BET co-founder Sheila Johnson said she herself is "ashamed" of what the network has become. “I don’t watch it. I suggest to my kids that they don't watch it," she said. “When we started BET, it was going to be the Ebony magazine on television. We had public affairs programming. We had news... I had a show called Teen Summit, we had a large variety of programming, but the problem is that then the video revolution started up... And then something started happening, and I didn't like it at all. And I remember during those days we would sit up and watch these videos and decide which ones were going on and which ones were not. We got a lot of backlash from recording artists...and we had to start showing them. I didn’t like the way women were being portrayed in these videos.”
Public Enemy rapper Chuck D, journalist George Curry, writer Keith Boykin, comic book creator Christopher Priest, filmmaker Spike Lee, Syracuse University professor of finance Dr.Boyce Watkins and cartoonist Aaron McGruder (who, in addition to numerous critical references throughout his series, The Boondocks, made a particular episode criticizing the channel), all have protested BET's programming and actions. As a result, BET heavily censors suggestive content from the videos that it airs, often with entire verses and scenes removed from certain rap videos.Furthermore, scholars within the black community maintain that BET perpetuates and justifies racism by affecting the interpersonal beliefs others may generalize about blacks, and also by affecting the psyche of its young viewers through its bombardment of negative images of blacks.
The spin off channel BETJ, (originally called BET On Jazz, and later BET Jazz), aired from 1996 until the fall of 2009. Programs on it included My Two Cents with Keith Boykin, Bryonn Bain, Crystal McCreary Anthony and Staceyann Chin, The Best Shorts hosted by Abiola Abrams, Living the Life of Marley about Ky-Mani Marley, My Model is Better Than Your Model with Eva Pigford and The Turn On hosted by Charlotte Burley. On September 28, 2009 BETJ was rebranded Centric. It features music, movies, reality shows and specials for adults. It is confirmed to show reruns of Soul Train and on November 29, The Soul Train Awards made a return. The network also operate two digital music channels, BET Gospel and BET Hip-Hop, both the sister channels airing programs that are described in their names.
BET's huge success, and the controversy over its content, has spawned a few smaller competitors aiming toward the African-American market. Rivals NUE TV (New Urban Entertainment Television)and Black Family Channel (formerly MBC) had little success. After the failure of NUE TV, Radio One again attempted a network: TV One in 2004. TV One has thrived and succeeded, mostly by eschewing BET's music-based programming for more family-oriented fare and programming for older and wealthier African Americans. BET continues to be mostly watched by the youth. A possible new arrival to Internet TV and broadcasting, The African American Channel, is making an attempt to enter the picture. Broadcasting and Cable magazine pointed out that The African American Channel could become a competitor of BET and others such as Black Family Channel and TV One in the not-so-distant future. In 2008, rapper Master P, who claims to have a "great relationship with BET", announced the launch of Better Black Television, which he intended to meet "consumer demand for family friendly hip-hop content".BET International
BET UK first transmitted on Videotron (now known as Virgin Media) and several other cable networks from 1993 up until 1996.
In May 2007 by Ofcom, BET International Inc was given a license to re-broadcast in the United Kingdom. BET International is the first international version of the channel and is available in Europe,Africa and the Middle East through satellite providers.
BET is available on Sky channel 191 after launching on Wednesday February 27, 2008 and on Freesat channel 140 after launching on August 8, 2008. BET+1 is also available on Sky channel 198 and Freesat channel 141, and is Free-to-air. BET International shows a mix of content from the main BET channel and locally produced shows. An exclusive HD version of the channel was made to show the BET Awards 2009 on Freesat EPG 142
BET is additionally an associate member of the Caribbean Cable Cooperative.
BET became available in Canada in October 1997 on most cable and satellite carriers. The Canadian feed is the same as the American feed, though sitcoms and films with rights belonging to other parties in Canada are replaced with a block of music videos without a BET logo appearing on-screen.BET Awards
The BET Awards is an awards ceremony established by BET in 2001. The awards celebrates the achievements of African Americans in music, acting, sports and other fields of entertainment throughout the year. Usually held in Los Angeles (since 2002), it is also presented annually and broadcast live on BET. At times the live airing proves problematic because of its content. On June 27, 2010, the awards ceremony celebrated its 10-year anniversary.