BET Networks and Tyler Perry Studios will launch the joint venture BET+ in the U.S. on Thursday, September 19. The ad-free SVOD service, which will cost $9.99 per month, will feature more than 1,000 hours of premium content, including exclusive new original programming and fan favorite series, movies, and specials, produced by a host of leading African American content creators, including Tyler Perry, Tracy Oliver, Will Packer and more.
The streaming wars have only intensified in recent weeks with news that Apple’s service would launch November 1, roughly two weeks before Disney launches its own. NBCUniversal announced its streaming service, called Peacock, will launch in April 2020. There’s also HBO Max on the horizon. These newcomers and BET+ will join a landscape populated by heavyweights such as Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video and Hulu. Can the market support all these different services?
Piloting the BET+ ship will be recently hired general manager Devin Griffin, who will oversee business strategy and operations, including original programming, content acquisitions, marketing, distribution, planning and analysis. “We started down the path of exploring launching this direct to consumer offering about a year and a half ago, and as we looked at the way the landscape is rapidly changing, after we did our due diligence, we felt that it made sense to go into the market as soon as possible,” Griffin said.
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He believes the BET brand is as singular as its audience. “We’ve got a really wonderful opportunity to build on the great foundation that is BET, in order to reach people where they are, for those who may not be in the traditional cable ecosystem,” he said. “The BET brand is really strong and cuts to the core of our target audience, and from a consumer standpoint, there’s been no better time than the present to find a story that speaks to your specific interests.”
Premiering at launch, BET+ will feature new exclusive original series “First Wives Club,” a nine-episode scripted drama from “Girls Trip” screenwriter Tracy Oliver; and “Bigger,” a ten-episode series from Will Packer, producer of blockbusters that include the “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man” movie franchises.
All episodes of “First Wives Club,” the modern serial remake of the classic 1996 revenge comedy with an all African American cast, will be made available at launch.
Meanwhile, the first three episodes of the half-hour scripted comedy “Bigger” will be made available at launch, with additional new episodes rolling out on a weekly basis.
Per Griffin, BET+ will take a more hybrid approach to how it releases its content, at least initially, and will make necessary adjustments as the service ages. “We’ve got the benefit of collecting all kinds of direct viewership and consumption data, which will inform the way that we might evolve our strategy,” he said. (Although he couldn’t comment on whether the service would eventually include theatrical release.)
While other platforms boast about how much they plan to spend on content, Griffin was mum on those specifics with regards to BET+, and would only say that they will be making a “substantial investment” in producing original content and acquisitions, with the goal being to roll out an original project about once a month.
Griffin also couldn’t discuss upcoming projects in detail at this time, but did say that announcements will be made in the coming weeks, including a film starring Paula Patton, which he described as a “juicy, pulpy story about an amazing, talented woman who is navigating complicated waters in the world of law and entertainment.” He also mentioned new projects from Perry, which he said would showcase the mogul’s talents in ways that audiences have yet seen.
Furthermore, Griffin envisions having a global presence, attending film festivals and film markets around the world, in search of content to acquire. Additionally, the service, which will launch in the States initially and expand internationally over time, will partner with black talent in other countries to produce content that he believes will resonate with American audiences.
In addition to its new original content, BET+ will become the exclusive SVOD home to the beloved comedy series “Martin,” and will house Tyler Perry’s theatrical films, and a selection of his stage plays. Also available will be a selection of African American TV, movie and musical content from BET’s library of original films and specials.
Series from Viacom’s Portfolio of BET sister networks, including VH1, MTV, TV Land, Nick @ Night and others, will also join the service, and in the coming months, BET+ will feature stand-up comedy specials from D.L. Hughley, Eddie Griffin, Nick Cannon, Sasheer Zamata, Lil Rel, Gina Yashere, Sinbad and more.
According to Griffin, there’s been early enthusiasm for the service, which he hopes will continue after its launch. “We’re really going to turn up the volume on the marketing that’s already been done, to let people know what we’re doing, and do it in a way where we can measure it, so that we can really understand what’s resonating and what’s not,” he said.
To entice viewers to sign up for the service, content developed for BET+ will be occasionally teased on the linear BET channel, Griffin said. Although, the standalone service will not include a live stream of cable TV network. He called BET+ a “complimentary service” to BET.
As for how he plans to compete in such a competitive content environment, Griffin is ready for the challenge. “The onus is on us to figure out how we identify, target and engage with folks who would love what we’re creating, because we’re moving to a world where things don’t have to be niche anymore,” he said. “It’s a matter of leveraging the tools that we have to collect eyeballs. What’s really nice is that we don’t have to collect them all at once, as you would have needed to under the traditional model. We’re just trying to gear ourselves up to be able to provide the best entertainment options for our audience.”
BET+ will be available at launch on September 19, on mobile and connected TV devices with a dedicated web experience coming later this year.