Black Entertainment Television (BET, stylised as BET★) is an American basic cable and satellite television channel that is owned by the BET Networks division of Viacom. It is the most prominent television network targeting African American audiences, with approximately 88,255,000 American households (75.8% of households with television) receiving the channel. The channel has offices in Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Programming on the network consists of original and acquired television series and theatrically and direct-to-video-released films. The network has also aired a variety of stand-up comedy, news, and current affairs programs, and formerly aired mainstream rap, hip-hop and R&B music videos; the latter of which now air on its branded sister networks.
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 a $500,000 investment from media executive John Malone to start the network. The network, which was named Black Entertainment Television (BET), launched on January 25, 1980. Initially broadcasting for two hours a week as a block of programming on Nickelodeon (it would not be until 1983 that BET became a full-fledged channel), the network's lineup consisted of music videos and reruns of popular black sitcoms.
BET launched a news program, BET News, in 1988, with Ed Gordon as its anchor. Gordon later hosted 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 Smiley as host of the program.
In 1991, the network became the first black-controlled TV company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Starting the late 1990s, the network expanded with the launch of digital cable networks: what is now the general interest channel BET Her originally launched as BET on Jazz (later known as BET Jazz and BET J), created originally to showcase jazz music-related programming, especially that of black jazz musicians; in 1998, it entered into a joint venture with Starz (then-owned by John Malone's Liberty Media) to launch a multiplex service of the premium channel featuring African American-oriented movies called BET Movies: Starz! 3 (later renamed Black Starz after BET dropped out of the venture following its purchase by Viacom, then-owner of Starz rival Showtime, and now known as Starz InBlack). In 2001, the network lost its status as 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 of president and chief executive officer to former BET vice president Debra L. Lee.
By 2007, the network had launched two more music-oriented networks, BET Hip-Hop and BET Gospel. BET also launched a batch of original programming by this time, including reality shows Baldwin Hills and Hell Date, competition show Sunday Best, and town hall-style discussion show Hip Hop vs. America. BET's president of entertainment Reginald Hudlin resigned from the network on September 11, 2008. He was then replaced by Stephen Hill, who is also executive vice president of music programming and talent. BET announced in March 2010 that Ed Gordon would return to the network to host "a variety of news programs and specials."
In 2017, it was announced that Stephen Hill, President of Programming and Zola Mashariki, EVP Head of Original Programming stepped down. In the wake of this news, Connie Orlando, SVP Specials, Music Programming, and News, served as the interim Head of Programming, according to chairman and CEO Debra Lee.
BET's programming began with a wide scope of comedy, music, public affairs, and news programming including ComicView, Video Soul with Donnie Simpson, Video Vibrations, Softones, Screen Scene, Unreal/Planet Groove/Caribbean Rhythms, Jam Zone/Cita's World, Teen Summit, BET News with Ed Gordon, Lead Story, BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley, and BET Nightly News. Original programming currently seen on BET include The Quad, and Being Mary Jane. By the early 2010s, the only regularly airing urban music video program on BET was 106 & Park, which debuted in September 2000 and ended in December 2014.
BET also airs a program block called BET Inspiration which features Christian programming. This block airs in lieu of infomercials in late night, which the network has not aired since 1997; BET is one of a handful of cable channels and one of only two Viacom-owned networks to have discontinued airing infomercials (sister network Nick at Nite ran infomercials in some overnight timeslots from 1987 to 1998, with series airing in that daypart since then). In early 2017, its Christian programming block changed its name to BET Rejoice.
In addition, the channel broadcasts acquired television series, primarily in the form of sitcoms (such as The Parkers, Family Matters and Moesha), drama series (such as Scandal), and same-day or week-delayed late-night runs of syndicated talk shows (namely The Wendy Williams Show, The Real, and Dish Nation). Feature films released theatrically and on home video are also aired on the channel, comprising much of its primetime and weekend schedule.
The BET Walk of Fame Awards were established in 1995 by BET. In 2004, proceeds were shared between United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and the BET Foundation, which executes the Healthy BET obesity awareness campaign and other pro-social causes like the annual charitable black-tie BET Walk of Fame ceremony.
The BET Awards were established in 2001 by the network to celebrate African Americans and other minorities in music, acting, sports and other fields of entertainment over the past year. The awards are presented annually and broadcast live on BET. BET commissioned Artist/Sculptor and Hip-Hop culture icon Carlos "Mare139" Rodriguez to design the Award sculpture. Global promotion is provided by Kroszover Entertainment.
The BET Honors were established in 2008 by the network to honor the lives and achievements of African-American luminaries. The awards are presented annually and broadcast on BET during Black History Month each February.
BET UK first transmitted on Videotron (now known as Virgin Media) and several other cable providers from 1993 until 1996.
In May 2007 by Ofcom, BET International Inc. was given a license to rebroadcast in the United Kingdom. BET International is the first international version of the channel and is available in Europe, Africa and the Middle East through satellite providers. BET launched on February 27, 2008 on Sky channel 191 and began to be carried by Freesat channel 140 on August 8, 2008. BET+1 is also available on Sky channel 198 and Freesat channel 141, and is free-to-air. BET International shows a mix of content from the main BET channel and locally produced shows. An exclusive, but temporary, HD version of the channel was made to show the 2009 BET Awards on Freesat EPG 142.
BET is additionally an associate member of the Caribbean Cable Cooperative.
BET launched an app called BET PLay allowing international access to BET content in over 100 countries in June 2016.
BET became available in Canada in October 1997 on most cable and satellite providers. The Canadian feed mirrors the American feed, though certain television programs and films are blacked out. Until 2017, they were replaced with repeats of old music video blocks (namely BET Music, The Pull Up and BET Now). As of March 2018, the feed now airs other acquired sitcoms and films in place of blacked-out programs.
Since November 17, 2015.
BET's programming is distributed on DVD and through video-on-demand services under the name BET Home Entertainment. In 2007, a distribution deal was arranged with Paramount Home Entertainment.
A wide range of people have protested elements of BET's programming and actions, including Public Enemy rapper Chuck D, journalist George Curry, writer Keith Boykin, comic book creator Christopher Priest, filmmaker Spike Lee, Syracuse University professor of finance Dr. Boyce Watkins, former NFL player Burgess Owens, and cartoonist Aaron McGruder (who, in addition to numerous critical references throughout his series, The Boondocks, made two particular episodes, "The Hunger Strike" and "The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show", criticizing the channel). As a result, BET heavily censors suggestive content from the videos that it airs, often with entire verses and scenes removed from certain rap videos.
Many scholars within the African American community maintain that BET perpetuates and justifies racism by affecting the stereotypes held about African Americans, and also by affecting the psyche of its young viewers through its bombardment of negative images of African Americans.
Following the death of civil rights leader Coretta Scott King in 2006, BET broadcast its regularly scheduled music video programming, rather than covering King's funeral live as CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and BET competitors TV One and Black Family Channel did. The BET website streamed the funeral live, while the channel periodically broadcast taped, 60-second reports from the funeral by senior news correspondent Andre Showell. Michael Lewellen, BET's senior vice president for corporate communications, defended the decision: "We weighed a number of different options. In the end, we chose to offer a different kind of experience for BET viewers." Lewellen also said that BET received around "two dozen" phone calls and "a handful" of emails criticizing BET for not showing the King funeral live. On the evening of the funeral, February 7, 2006, BET broadcast the tribute special Coretta Scott King: Married to the Mission, and BET repeated this the following Sunday, February 12. Showell hosted a program featuring highlights of the funeral, Coretta Scott King: Celebrating Her Spirit, that broadcast that same day. In its 2007 convention, the National Association of Black Journalists gave BET its Thumbs Down Award for not broadcasting King's funeral live.
The New York Times reported that the Reverend Delman L. Coates and his organization Enough is Enough led protests every weekend outside the residences of BET executives against what they claim are negative stereotypes of black people perpetuated by BET music videos. Enough is Enough backed an April 2008 report titled The Rap on Rap by the Parents Television Council that claimed that BET's rap programming, which they believed contained gratuitous sexual, violent and profane content, was targeting children and teens.
In a 2010 interview, BET co-founder Sheila Johnson said that she herself is "ashamed" of what the network has become. "I don't watch it. I suggest to my kids that they don't watch it," she said. "When we started BET, it was going to be the Ebony magazine on television. We had public affairs programming. We had news... I had a show called Teen Summit, we had a large variety of programming, but the problem is that then the video revolution started up... And then something started happening, and I didn't like it at all. And I remember during those days we would sit up and watch these videos and decide which ones were going on and which ones were not. We got a lot of backlash from recording artists...and we had to start showing them. I didn't like the way women were being portrayed in these videos."
[...] today announced the launch of BET Home Entertainment through a partnership with Paramount Home Entertainment, who will distribute BET original television programming, made-for-DVD titles and acquired content on a worldwide basis.
BET Home Entertainment, a collection of BET-branded offerings for the home environment, including DVDs and video on demand