Like the birth of a new king, BET UK was announced with much fanfare. Originally founded in the United States, in 1979, the objective of Black Entertainment Television was to provide black cultural content through a variety of music, video and topical programming. Now officially in the UK, on Sky channel 209, has the network lived up to the expectations or was the launch premature?
Much of the broadcasting for BET UK is dominated by the popular music of today. 106 & Park, a music video countdown and interview show, was pitched as the top programme to watch. With much of the musical content already available on MTV Base and a line up of artists, unlikely to appeal to viewers over the age of 21, it was quite a letdown.
Reality from a black perspective
Continuing in the same vein are the reality shows Baldwin Hills which focuses on 11 teenagers and College Hill which focuses on 8 college students. Although both attempt to lay bare the complexities of teenage and young adult life, Baldwin Hills seems like an irrelevant piece of television, choosing to focus on tantrums and parties. Whilst College Hill deals with issues of adoption, relationships and the stresses of academic life.
There are a small number of shows that appear to target older viewers. Like American Gangster, a documentary series on the most notorious criminals and Hip Hop vs. America, a debate show tackling the responsibility of hip hop, in relation to its lyrical and visual content. Featuring a panel of rappers, intellectuals, journalists and ex-video models the mixture of opinions varies from the ludicrous to the thought-provoking.
UK produced content required
Although BET UK is in its early days, with limited viewing there have already been murmurs of boredom from the general public. Simone, 19 from Bristol says, “I hardly watch it, they just seem to show the same programmes over and over.” There have also been issues with the content, according to Tobi, 25 from London the doom and gloom true stories are clichéd, ‘I would like to see more success stories of young and old black people and not from selling drugs…I’m getting tired of the whole Jay Z success story.’
Despite its gripes BET UK is not all bad, with shows like BET Honours celebrating the multitude of black talent and achievement, Hell Date, a reality dating show with a twist and the uplifting music show Celebration of Gospel, the channel has the potential to keep audiences glued.
With the promise of a ‘more regionalised look…that reflects the UK marketplace’ from the Senior Vice President of BET and Alicia Keys hinting that BET will see ‘American artists and British artists merge more’ BET UK has the potential to be an enjoyable channel.
Words by Rachelle Hull