Black History Month – Day 11 Spotlight: BET (Black Entertainment Television)

Black Entertainment Television is a Viacom-owned cable network based in Washington, D.C. It is the most prominent television network targeting young Black-American audiences and is the leading provider of Black-American cultural and entertainment-based programming.

The network was launched on January 25, 1980, by its founder, Robert L. Johnson. Most programming of the network comprises mainstream rap and R&B music videos and urban-oriented movies and series.

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 as Black 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.

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 shows Baldwin 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.

By the Numbers

BET and CENTRIC reach more than 89 million and 31 million households respectively and can be seen in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. BET can also be seen in the United Kingdom and sub-Saharan Africa.

CENTRIC is a new music and entertainment brand from BET Networks, offering programming that reflects the music, icons, cultures and lifestyles of today’s trend setting, sophisticated African American and multicultural adults.

BET.com is a leading online destination for the target audiences. BET Mobile delivers music, gaming, and video content to the target audiences on wireless devices across virtually all service providers. BET Home Entertainment is a collection of BET-branded offerings for the home environment including DVDs and video-on-demand. BET International delivers BET content to the consumers of Black culture around the world.