BET surprised a number of video producers this year when it announced it picked up four series for online distribution, many of them serious scripted dramas edgier than BET’s on-air fare.
During a panel held at CAA at ITVFest, the tone coming from executives Martez Moore and Monique Ware was clear: they are committed.
“I’m looking for more web originals for next year’s slate,” said Moore, executive vice president for digital operations. “We want to showcase and tell the stories that you wouldn’t expect us to tell.”
At a time when broadcast networks are rethinking web originals, either cutting back entirely or focusing on extending on-air brands, BET is joining the ranks of AMC, cable networks slightly leaner than the broadcasters and looking to solidify and grow audiences in different ways. Competition in cable’s long tail is heating up as more cable channels start releasing original reality and scripted shows.
BET’s strategy is “shifting eyeballs:” keep viewers engaged across platforms and networks (like Centric), from TV to social media and now web originals. This means the network isn’t necessarily grooming its web shows for on-air — though Moore said he’s sure they’ll “try to test some things.” Instead the network is looking to grow digital on its own, so viewers expect to interact with BET’s brand in as many ways they can imagine.
On BET.com web shows are listed side-by-side with on-air, reflecting the channel’s commitment to content-agnostic transmedia strategy. “BET understands content is content,” said Matthew Arevalo, founder of Master Works, which coordinated Asylum’s digital strategy.
“There are no constraints,” said Moore, referring to the kinds of stories the network is interested in telling. Although he said they are generally interested in short-form, roughly 10-episode projects that can be repackaged into different formats. Monique Ware, BET’s vice president of marketing and convergence, said a couple of years ago the network tested audience attention online and found interest in web originals trailed off after a certain number of minutes. Though, she added, “we should probably test it again.”
Aslyum is an interesting digital story: a procedural about the darkness and dysfunction of the mental health system.
“I ran across an article about how mental health hospitals in California are really just underfunded and understaffed, and there have been outbreaks of violence,” creator and writer Dan Williams said. “That got me thinking: who are the people working these hospitals?”
The network stressed its executives were “being pushed” to innovate by its active and engaged audience of primarily black consumers.
“It’s really about creating compelling companion content. So as folks are engaged in a show on-air, it’s really about being to tell them about these really cool things that they experiment, experience or consume online,” Ware said.