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BET Chief Lee to Competitors: ‘Bring It On’

4/21/2013 8:00 PM Eastern

NEW YORK — BET chairman and CEO Debra Lee has a message for networks aiming for the programmer’s leadership position among African-American audiences: “Bring it on.”

Lee said it makes sense that such dedicated networks as TV One, OWN, Aspire and Bounce, and services like WE tv, Bravo and GMC with shows targeting African-Americans, are gunning for BET’s audience.

“It’s smart for the others. You can’t be in this business and ignore Latinos and African-Americans,” she said, noting their growth in audience, influence and spending power.

However, the proliferation of competitors has served to make BET better, according to Lee, who on April 16 celebrated her 27th anniversary with the company.

When plans for TV One were announced a decade ago, Lee phoned then-Viacom executive Mel Karmazin, and said, “We have competition.” He replied, “Competition makes the leader stronger,” she recalled.

Lee continued, saying: “BET has a great story to tell. We have programming that is being executed at a high level. We love competition. Bring it on.”

Asked by Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead what her vision was when she became CEO seven years ago, Lee quickly pointed to the addition of more original programming: “It was important for us to own our content. We’ve been focused on that.”

She also noted that brand strategy research has been key for BET and sister service Centric, with the three precepts of “respect, reflect and elevate, informing the company’s programming, marketing and pro-social campaigns.”

Those elements, emphasized during the company’s upfront presentation to advertisers, has helped forge “emotional connections” to BET and Centric. “We have more connections with the audience than Style, Bravo, We, TV One, OWN. They’re all going after our audience, but our ratings are higher than ever.”

Asked about viewing trends, said Lee: “It’s cable,, digital platforms, mobile, social media, Twitter, Instagram. We encourage our talent to be part of [social media] and it helps. Kevin Hart has 7 million followers, and that’s a plus for Real Husbands of Hollywood.” Lee said she was just at MIP, pitching the reality show parody internationally.

“We’ll keep doing more of what we’re doing, and world domination,” Lee concluded with a laugh, “starting with the Real Husbands of Hollywood.”


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