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[01/05/06 - 12:00 AM]
BET Rolls Into 2006 Riding Momentum from Best-Ever Viewership Year, Major Successes and New Direction

[via press release from BET]

BET Rolls Into 2006 Riding Momentum From Best-Ever Viewership Year, Major Successes and New Direction

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 -- Any television network would welcome the wave that BET Networks is riding as the New Year unfolds. Calendar year 2005 saw the core BET cable channel deliver its best-ever audience with households and viewers increasing by an impressive 17% over 2004. The company also celebrated its 25th anniversary; fine-tuned its business portfolio; made executive moves focused on original programming; and refreshed its market identity with new graphics and an edgier attitude. All of this happened in just the first six months of Debra Lee's tenure as CEO.

"We're generating the kind of results that should make BET affiliates, advertisers, viewers and supporters take notice. Every part of the BET organization is contributing to that success," said Lee. "The momentum we have gives us optimism heading into 2006. The thought of trying to match or surpass last year's performance is a challenge we certainly welcome."

Lee continued, "I see successes and milestones as ingredients you use to set your next slate of goals and objectives. BET has never taken success lightly. We're already hard at work on making 2006 another great year."

While BET's business platform is thriving, its holding company Viacom, Inc. is changing. Earlier this week, Viacom officially split into two separate companies -- CBS Corporation, with radio, broadcast television, publishing and outdoor advertising among its brands; and a "new" version of Viacom that features MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, Famous Music and BET Networks.

"It's an exciting new day for both Viacom and BET," said Lee. "Our company is now an even bigger part of the overall Viacom business strategy. This bodes well for future investment in the BET brand."

In 2005, BET made some important strategic moves. First, it launched a home entertainment business through a ground-breaking retail deal with Wal-Mart stores to sell BET-branded content nationwide. Next, the company unveiled BET Mobile, a venture to access the lucrative world of ring tones, games and video content for wireless devices. BET then completed its realignment of assets by selling the BET Books division to publishing giant Harlequin Enterprises.

BET's programming engine was running full throttle in 2005 with a mix of mega-specials and proven favorites forming the right tonic for viewers. The '05 BET AWARDS earned the title of most-watched program ever by African Americans in the history of cable television (Nielsen Media Research, 1996-present). Overall, 6.6 million viewers watched the annual showcase nationally across all demographics.

For the year, BET's daily sign-on to sign-off rating was .50, which calculates to an average of 485,000 viewers and 406,000 households tuning in -- easily the best performance in the network's 25-year history. Black college reality show COLLEGE HILL was cable's #1 half-hour original program among African-American households during the first quarter of 2005. Viewer favorites like 106 & PARK: BET'S TOP 10 LIVE, BOBBY JONES GOSPEL, BLACK-BUSTER CINEMA and a blend of syndicated sitcoms highlighted by IN LIVING COLOR and THE JAMIE FOXX SHOW were consistent draws in their timeslots.

BET struck a heart-felt cord with all of America in September with S.O.S. (Saving OurSelves): THE BET RELIEF TELETHON, which raised more than $12 million in pledges and contributions for Hurricane Katrina victims. News-focused specials performed well again for BET in December as RICHARD PRYOR: THE FUNNIEST MAN DEAD OR ALIVE, a documentary on the life and death of Pryor, attracted 1.1 million viewers.

Going forward, BET's strategy rests on a reenergized commitment to more original programming. Lee announced in July the hiring of acclaimed Hollywood producer and director Reginald Hudlin as BET President of Entertainment. Hudlin's charge is to establish a solid pipeline of original programming from sources inside and outside of BET.

"We're giving Reggie and his team the latitude and resources to shake things up," said Lee. "The payoff may not happen overnight, but we're definitely moving in the right direction."

Hudlin has already had an impact. He led a multi-city, coast-to-coast casting call that attracted thousands of candidates from which BET will unveil fresh new talent for a range of network shows. BET's News and Public Affairs programming has been infused with a more contemporary delivery that shifts from half-hour newscasts to news briefs throughout the day; increases the number of issues-driven news specials; and further leverages the BET.com Internet portal as a news content source. Next for Hudlin and BET is a slate of new 2006 programming that includes more genre-busting reality series; an unconventional talk show with religious leaders debating hot topics; a fast-paced news magazine; and more high-energy specials.

Other 2005 successes for BET included:

* Continued status as the #1 cable network in primetime for African Americans, and the top channel overall for African Americans ages 18-34, BET's target demographic.

* Rollout of an all-new graphic look and attitudinal feel for BET. The overall network anthem "It's My Thing" was launched in January, with an important emotional connection to Black culture and style as seen through the in eyes of the BET audience.

* Negotiation of expanded distribution for the BET Jazz Channel that will be announced in 1st Quarter 2006, along with a brand and programming re-launch for that network.

* Impressive performance by the BET.com website which averaged 50 million page views and 3 million unique visitors per month;

* More recognition for BET's Rap-It-Up initiative, the largest effort targeting HIV/AIDS among African Americans in the country, with the effort receiving a public service Emmy Award nomination, an NAACP Award nomination for its film "Walking on Sunshine", and five Cable Positive Awards, including recognition of BET as Network of the Year. The Rap-It-Up informational hotline also received its one millionth caller, a huge milestone in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

* Continuation of the tremendous momentum created by the BET Foundation (started in 2003), including the introduction of a BET Summer Camp for Girls and a continued commitment to the battle against obesity among African-American women and girls.

ABOUT BET

BET, a subsidiary of Viacom, Inc. (NYSE: VIA and VIA.B), is the nation's leading television network providing quality entertainment, music, news and public affairs programming for the African-American audience. The BET Network reaches more than 80 million households according to Nielsen media research, and can be seen in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. BET is a dominant consumer brand in the urban marketplace with a diverse group of branded businesses: BET.com, the Number 1 Internet portal for African Americans; BET Digital Networks -- BET Jazz, BET Gospel and BET Hip Hop, attractive alternatives for cutting-edge entertainment tastes; and BET Event Productions, specializing in a full range of event production services, including event management, venue selection, talent recruitment, sound, lighting and stage production.

SOURCE BET (Black Entertainment Television)
Web Site: http://www.bet.com





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