ViacomCBS Sept. 15 announced the launch of BET Studios, a studio venture offering equity ownership for black content creators. Propelled by the infrastructure and financing of BET and ViacomCBS, BET Studios aims to create premium television series and films for an array of internal buyers, including Paramount+, Showtime, CBS, Nickelodeon, BET+ and BET, in addition to select third-party platforms.
BET Studios will launch with principal partners movie/TV producer Kenya Barris; actress, director, writer Rashida Jones; and screenwriter/producer Aaron Rahsaan Thomas.
BET Studios will operate with dedicated staff reporting to Barris, Jones and Thomas. This group will utilize the BET and larger ViacomCBS infrastructure and shared services to support day-to-day tactics.
Barris created the Netflix original comedy “#BlackAF,” and the multi-series “-ish” franchise, which includes ABC’s Peabody Award-winning sitcom “Black-ish” and spin-off series “Mixed-ish” and “Grown-ish,” which airs on Freeform. Most recently, Barris co-wrote Coming 2 America for Paramount, which licensed the movie to Amazon Prime Video.
“The demand for premium content from black creators has accelerated dramatically as a result of both the rapidly changing media and social landscapes,” Scott Mills, president of BET, said in a statement.
Black Entertainment Television was founded in 1980 by Robert L. Johnson, who later sold the company to ViacomCBS. BET ended 2015 with a reported access in 88 million U.S. pay-TV households. Johnson later bought Acorn Media and Image Entertainment, creating RLJ Entertainment, which he sold to AMC Networks.
“BET Studios is an exciting and novel extension of the storied BET brand, and we have a structure well-suited to our times to bring top talent into this production company with real ownership,” said David Nevins, chief content officer of scripted originals at Paramount, and chairman and chief executive officer of Showtime Networks.
BET Studios will be headed by Aisha Summers Burke, who was recently appointed EVP and GM of the new venture. In this role, Burke will be responsible for working collaboratively with the studio’s creative partners and key internal constituencies. Along with overseeing the day-to-day creative affairs for the company, she will also be responsible for the BET Studios content slate and focusing on growing the Studio’s production output across both internal and external platforms. Burke will report to Mills.
Prior to joining BET, Burke spent 13 years at Warner Bros. Television, most recently serving as VP of scripted television for the cable and streaming division of Warner Horizon before it merged with Warner Bros. TV in 2020.
BET in 2019 launched BET+, a SVOD service operated by Tyler Perry Studios and the BET Networks.