BET Soul is an American digital cable network that is controlled by the BET Networks division of Viacom, which owns the network. The channel showcases R&B, funk, soul, neo soul, hip hop, jazz and Motown music from various decades.
The channel, which was originally a commercial-free service, debuted on May 8, 2000 with VH1 Classic as part of the "MTV Digital Suite" of digital cable channels, which was sold solely to cable providers to give them an advantage over satellite services. In its early years, VH1 Soul's main focus was on R&B and soul videos of the late 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, along with live performance clips from even earlier years. Janet Jackson, Prince, TLC, Usher, Tony Toni Tone, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle and Stevie Wonder were some of the channel's main staples. By 2003, the channel had stopped showing most of the pre-1990s videos, since these were often played on VH1 Classic's Classic Soul program. The channel then gradually began to focus more on underground, alternative, and old school hip-hop videos, while continuing to feature new R&B musicians.
On February 1, 2006, VH1 Soul revamped its format, discontinuing with the model of running videos randomly and instead airing videos on different genre-based music shows, though a basic 'wheel schedule' structure remained, and does so to this day.
In the spring of 2007, VH1 Soul, along with its sister networks MTV Jams and MTV Hits, were briefly dropped from Time Warner Cable's Southern California systems that were formerly operated by Adelphia and Comcast. However, all three channels returned to TWC within a couple of months, under a new, specialized service tier. To date, however, the three networks remain conspicuously absent from many of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks' systems, most notably in New York City. Even as the 'Digital Suite' concept was discontinued, the network has never been offered to DirecTV or Dish Network.
For a short time from 2008 until 2009 the network aired non music video programming in some time slots, including VH1's The Salt-n-Pepa Show, along with the documentary Black to the Future as part of the network's February 2009 Black History Month programming, along with out-of-format programming such as VH1 Hip Hop Honors Show, VH1 Rock Docs, and other programming from its Celebreality strand of original programming. Viewer complaints that resulted from the programming substitutions soon overwhelmed VH1's management, along with other complaints for sister network VH1 Classic straying from its own mission. Soon, VH1 moved away from out-of-format programming on both channels, and by late 2009, VH1 Soul resumed a 24/7 video format.
Presently, a selection of R&B hits from the past ten years, as well as several 1980s and early 1990s hip-hop videos, can be seen on VH1 Soul. Several of the more R&B-influenced modern-day rappers and their newest videos can also be regularly seen in heavy rotation on VH1 Soul; for example: The Roots, De La Soul, Kanye West, Common, and Talib Kweli. However, VH1 Soul still occasionally airs older 1980s or early 1990s R&B/soul hits, such as Prince's "Kiss", Mariah Carey's "Vision Of Love", Stevie Wonder's "Superstition", or Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You". The network restored commercials on January 1, 2011.
On December 28, 2015, the channel was given over to BET Networks as part of the continuing reorganization of Viacom's assets due to ratings and financial issues in 2015, an issue that had already resulted in BET Networks taking editorial control of the former MTV Jams two months before. The network was rebranded as BET Soul on that day.