That is what BET did Thursday night in New York with an upfront presentation that was possibly the finest seen so far in TV’s current upfront sales season.
One important attribute was the choice of venue: Frederick P. Rose Hall (aka Rose Theater) within the complex known as Jazz At Lincoln Center, located a few blocks south in the Time Warner Center complex. It is a cozy, intimate theater space with some of the best acoustics and production values in New York City — perfect for an upfront sales presentation that blended live appearances with plenty of promotional video.
Attendees saw performances from gospel-music greats Yolanda Adams and Kirk Franklin, who saluted another gospel legend, Bobby Jones, whose “Bobby Jones Gospel” show has been on BET for 35 years; and rapper Ludacris, who closed the presentation.
Ludacris is also a co-producer of one of the new shows announced by BET Thursday night -- “The Label,” a docu-series that will tell the stories behind the rise (and sometimes the fall) of some of hip-hop’s most notorious record labels.
Another star turned-producer, Queen Latifah, took the stage to tout Centric, the BET sister channel aimed at African-American women. Latifah is producing two new series for Centric: “Curve Appeal,” a makeover show for “the 14-plus woman,” and “From the Bottom Up,” a six part docu-series about real women who came back from adversity.
Other stars who stepped up for BET included movie actor Tyrese, who served as host of the event; Kelly Rowland, formerly of Destiny’s Child and now the star of a new singing competition show for Centric called “Chasing Destiny”; Brandy Norwood, starring in the new BET scripted comedy “Zoe Moon”; and Whoopi Goldberg, whose daughter Alex is starring in a new unscripted series for Centric called “According to Alex,” in which Whoopi will appear.
But the real stars of BET’s upfront were the company’s leadership triumvirate -- Debra Lee, chairman and CEO of BET Networks; Stephen Hill, president of programming; and Louis Carr, president of broadcast and advertising media sales.
“The industry has recently discovered what we have known for 35 years, that the African-American audience sets trends, drives adoption of brands, and is a critical market for any brand’s success,” said Lee, the first of the three to appear on stage and the one who set the tone for the evening.
The theme seemed to be: For reaching African-American consumers, no media brand engages with this group -- whether on TV or through social media -- better than the networks of BET. “We at BET Networks also dominate on social media,” Lee said. “BET is ranked as one of the top 25 most social brands of 2014. We are one of only four TV networks to make the list and we are the only multicultural targeted brand on the list. Our brand is a multiplatform megastar.”
Her message was echoed by the effervescent Hill, who made the evening’s programming announcements, including a number of new shows plus the return of existing hits such as “Being Mary Jane”; and Carr, who made BET’s pitch directly to this audience of ad agency representatives.
“We are young, we are energetic and we are sexy,” Hill said. “Our indisputed advantage in the marketplace is that we have engagement with our audience [that is] unmatched by anyone. We create content that lets our audience know we understand their culture and their lifestyle better than anybody else. They come to us for their cool cues, and we deliver. BET is an extension of who they are, who they want to be and who they want to be with. Our content is engaging, emotional, entertaining, and goes everywhere they go.”
For his part, Carr put the evening in perspective: “The real purpose of this year’s upfront is to show you how black consumers experience BET Networks differently than any other media brand,” he said.
“The browning of America is a reality,” Carr said, “with millennials making up 40% of the total black population. These consumers also have the ability to spend more on luxury brands by about 30 percent. They spend more on packaged goods and snacks and beverages and footwear and video games and QSRs [quick-service restaurants] by about 20 percent. Black millennials are a tremendous force in today’s media landscape, but more importantly, they move product for people like you.”