It is always nice when we can see a staple network of cable television from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s successfully make the shift to the internet age. Not every channel has been able to pull this off, at least not in a way that allows them to retain relevancy. But, then again, not every channel offers a range of entertainment that has retained an equal amount of demand in the 21st century as it did in the 20th.
As we steadily march deeper into the 21st century, the most successful companies seem to be those that have been able to cater to entertainment in some way. Be it music, movies, television, or entertainment news; it appears to be survival of the most entertaining. With the rise of binge culture thanks to Netflix and the near-constant outpour of bite-sized forms of entertainment such as memes and gifs to share via social media, it could be argued that pop culture is more pervasive today than it ever has been at any point in history before.
Furthermore, it would seem as if black entertainment, specifically, has a more widespread appeal than it has ever before as well. With hip hop being easily one of the most popular musical genres around the world (some even say that it is to the 21st century what rock and roll was to the 20th), there is a newfound and reinvigorated mass-market demand for black artists, actors, musicians, and, essentially, black culture.
That is not to say that there has not always been a demand for black art. Of course, we are all well aware of how commercially successful Elvis Presley was able to become in the 1950s and 60s by appropriating and whitewashing black music. Heck, even rock and roll itself is steeped heavily in black musical roots such as the blues, jazz, and gospel. The main difference, today, however, lies in the fact that, more than ever before, black music’s commercial success hinges much less on creating white versions of it – opening more doors for truly black forms of art than ever before were open, at least in mainstream pop culture.
Whereas many black news and entertainment outlets of the past were relatively niche in nature – you wouldn’t see a whole lot of white people subscribing to, say, Jet magazine, for instance – the fact that black music and entertainment has reached a new level of mainstream recognition allows for traditionally black networks, such as BET, to find new pinnacles of commercial success.
Robert L. Johnson of Freeport Illinois spent many years lobbying for the cable industry. However, once lobbying finally took its toll, he decided to step down from that profession and start his own cable television network. Armed with a $15,000 loan and a $150,000 investment from media execute, John Malone he set out to work on his vision.
Johnson would go on to launch Black Entertainment Television (BET) on January 25th, 1980. BET originally aired as a two-hours per week block of programming on what was then known as the Madison Square Garden Sports Network (three months after BET launched, MSGSN changed its name to the USA Network). In its infancy, BET focused primarily on airing music videos and reruns of famous black sitcoms. By the time 1983 rolled around, though, BET had become a full-scale cable network of its own, independent of USA or any other block of programming available at the time.
In 1991, BET became the first black-controlled television network to ever be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. From there, BET began to branch out even further, launching expansion networks designed for smaller subsets of the black community. BET Her, for instance, launched as BET Jazz, which was meant to showcase black jazz musicians.
In 1998, BET also teamed up with Starz! to create a premium channel dedicated to black movies, BET Movies: Starz! This led to the network officially losing its status as a majority black-owned company, however, and it was eventually swallowed up by the media conglomerate, Viacom, who acquired the network for $3 billion. To this day, though, BET still stands as perhaps the only cable network devoted solely to black entertainment.
From the moment you land on BET.com’s home page, you will immediately know how to use it. It is extremely intuitive. Not only that, though, the site is also expertly organized and clean. I am, personally, a big fan of clean lines and clearly delineated sections and boxes to fit content into when it comes to site design. Maybe it’s just my OCD at work. And for what it’s worth, BET quells the OCD concerns that I tend to have on other entertainment sites. It is loaded with content and information, flashy, and stylish all without being overwhelming or distracting.
First, your eye will be led to two boxes at the top of the page. At the time of this interview, those two boxes are very clearly labeled, “NAACP Image Awards” and “Shows.” If you came to keep up with black current events, there you have it, check out ongoing updates on the upcoming NAACP Image Awards. If you came to keep up with your favorite BET shows, on the other hand, just as easily, there they are to peruse at your leisure.
Keep scrolling down the page to find that each individual section of the site is presented, one by one … simply scroll until you find what you came for. Or, if you prefer, those same sections are all always available at the very top, above the page proper, in the site menu bar. Click on Shows, Music, BET+, News, Celebs, Style, More, or simply Live TV. I love how easy and intuitive it is to use this site.
Well, as I have already touched on, BET caters to black entertainment, music, film, TV, and style specifically. That means, if it’s black-owned, black-operated, black-created, or important to black pop culture in some way, BET has the inside scoop. The articles are mostly journalistic in nature – informative, engaging, and often well-written – sometimes with an op-ed slant (but not always … which is refreshing from an entertainment news site).
In addition to black entertainment news, BET offers access to its long history of programming, as well as the ability to stream current shows and even tune into live BET broadcasting any time of the day or night (granted that you have a cable subscription). Simply sign-in with your cable provider to watch BET live on your computer or smartphone.
Desktop and Mobile Experience
I’ve already sang the praises of BET’s desktop and web browsing experience. Oh, the mobile version of the site is just as good, too, by the way. But one more thing that makes BET stand out is the fact that it offers two separate apps in addition to this expertly designed website: BET Now and BET+.
BET Now is, more or less, the app version of BET.com. It enables you to do everything that you can do on the website, just in a more streamlined fashion, on the go. In order to get the most out of this app, again, you will have to sign in with your cable provider.
BET+, on the other hand, is BET’s own premium subscription-based streaming service. With this app, you can stream hundreds of hours of classic movies, old television shows, and exclusive BET+ content that you can’t find anywhere else. This app, understandably, is better designed than BET Now, but for a free app, BET Now is certainly nothing to trash either. Whether on your computer or your mobile device, there are plenty of easy and enjoyable ways to indulge in great black content thanks to BET.
Pricing and Plans
So, as I began to talk about a moment ago, there are a few different ways to enjoy BET at various levels, with varying payments and arrangements to made (as well as simply using BET.com as a news site with no paywall).
To unlock BET’s current content and live TV, you will need to have a cable provider.
And BET+ will run you $9.99 per month. But for what essentially amounts to an all-black Netflix, it is certainly something to consider for those who have room in their budgets for another paid streaming service.
Suggestions that I have for BET
I understand that BET is, first and foremost, an entertainment news site, so I may be nitpicking here, but I would like to see BET expand its hard news section. Politics and activism, it seems, is especially important to the black community (I mean, a whole protest movement had to be started recently to remind America that black lives, in fact, do matter). So, as this is the case, I that maybe BET could maybe stand to offer more hard news and political opinion articles not only pertaining to local black communities but national and global black news as well.