BET Mobile chief: Android accounts for 60-70% of userbase

Focus will remain on iOS, Android

with Brandon Lucas, vice president and general manager of mobile for BET

Brandon Lucas

Brandon Lucas

With over 90 million viewers nationwide, Black Entertainment Television is the largest TV network targeting a primarily African-American audience. BET's reach, however, isn't limited to TVs. BET has carved a unique place for itself in the wireless space by forging partnerships with operators to bring ringtones, games and video content to mobile users. The company is also working on apps and other interactive content.

Leading the mobile charge at BET is Brandon Lucas, its vice president and general manager of mobile. Lucas, who joined the network in 2009, has worked on all sides of the wireless game, including stints at U.S. Cellular, Disney Mobile and MySpace's Mobile division. FierceMobileContent Associate Editor Sandhya Raman recently talked to Lucas about BET's changing mobile strategy, how new technology will affect the network's vision and what's in store for the rest of 2012.

FierceMobileContent: BET currently has its 106th and Park and BET Awards 2012 apps available through Apple's App Store and Google Play. Do you plan to expand to other mobile platforms or will BET concentrate on these two for the present?

Brandon Lucas: We are definitely going to keep concentrating on these two for the time being. We're a very data-driven organization, and what we do is we look at the numbers. Even if a certain tablet might be popular with the general population, if it is not popular with our userbase and we're not seeing meaningful growth, then it's not something we need to address right away.

FierceMobileContent: Android itself is fairly diverse, given the number of different versions that users are running.

Lucas: It's a handful, as you know, because for Android there's quite a bit of fragmentation. Particularly when we work on the Android apps it does take a lot of effort to address bugs, and user experience issues tend to pop up on specific devices. I think it's a welcome gift to us that we only need to focus on those two platforms right now. We have our hands full.

FierceMobileContent: Have you seen more growth in iOS or Android?

Lucas: We see really, really strong growth for both iOS and Android, and they are both incredibly meaningful platforms to us. We do see almost a 50/50 split between iPhone and iPod touch, especially around the 106 and Park app where we've got a younger audience. If you're a younger user you tend to be more likely to have the iPod touch.

Overall I'd say that we typically see 60-70 percent of our app users run Android and the balance is iOS. The prepaid carriers are really big with our audience and until recently, the only smartphones they carried between iPhone and Android were Android, so I think that's why we're seeing that skew right now.

FierceMobileContent: The BET Awards have been around for over ten years. What made BET decide to make an awards-themed app now and is it something you will continue to do in 2013 and beyond?

Lucas: This is our 12th year of the BET Awards and it was a very, very successful year for us. We had wanted to do a BET Awards app for a while. It's our biggest show of the year, and we felt that an app could really do a lot to help market and promote the show and to create more awareness and more buzz around it.

Our digital strategy overall includes our online strategy, our social media strategy and our app strategy. We really focused on all three of those platforms really aggressively this year to help support the BET Awards.

We are definitely going to continue to do the BET Awards app in the future because it was extremely successful for us this year. We really do feel that it plays an important role in digital's overall role in promoting and creating awareness around the actual show.

FierceMobileContent: You touched on some of the new technologies BET is working with. What other types of new technology in mobile do you expect to be using in the future? Is HTML5 something you plan to work with?

Lucas: On the mobile Web front we're definitely interested in HTML5. We want to improve our touch-optimized experience for mobile Web. Whether or not that's going to be HTML5 we're still weighing the different options on that front.

In terms of other technologies, we're looking at different stuff happening out there in terms of GetGlue and the other social TV guys. We partner with GetGlue, so we're looking at things like a new API that would allow us to integrate them into our apps.

We're looking at other ways of integrating Twitter and Facebook into our apps that are new and innovative and at video delivery and serving platforms as well--ways that we can create a more immersive and more enjoyable video experience for people.

We have a bunch of platform providers that we're looking at: better analytics is another one, figuring out better ways to understand who is using the app and how we can better message to them to get them re-engaged in the app. 

FierceMobileContent: How does BET go about acquiring more mobile users? Is it more of a holistic thing where it is advertised through the TV and the Internet and or do you bridge from mobile sites to mobile apps or a combination?

Lucas: It's a combination. The first thing that we try to do is that we build an amazing app that Apple and Google are going to feature. You cannot overstate the impact of being featured by them. It has definitely done a lot to create awareness and drive downloads for the BET Awards and the 106 and Park app.

The No. 1 asset that we leverage to drive adoption, however, is our TV network. When the 106 and Park app launched, we featured the app on the show. The app was actually integrated into most segments on that show every day that week. There were download calls to action, and that alone drove several hundred thousand downloads that week. We also run spots across the network like for the BET Awards app; we had a 15 second and a 30 second spot that would run across the network over the last several weeks. That does a lot to create awareness as well.

FierceMobileContent: What about through mobile itself?

We cross promoted the BET Awards app when that came out to our 106 and Park users. We leveraged our text messaging platform, and we've got almost 100,000 106 and Park text message subscribers. We used our online assets like to promote it and drive awareness as well. I would say another big lever for us is social media. We've got millions upon millions of followers on Twitter and people who've liked us on Facebook and we're really aggressive about making sure the availability of the app known to those users as well.

FierceMobileContentIn the past, I know you've had a series of partnerships with various operators, including with Verizon for V Cast. Is working with operators something that is still a big priority?

Lucas: We do have really strong relationships with Google and Apple. Obviously these are newer as they weren't part of the ecosystem a few years ago, but we still do work with most of the carriers.

We've got partnerships with Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile around our premium mobile video products. We work with some of the prepaid carriers over a number of different fronts--especially MetroPCS with whom we've got three different kinds of partnerships and Cricket. The carrier partnerships are still important to us, especially the prepaid partnerships because with those, 20-30 percent might be African American, so you get really good overlap with your target demo. We still spend quite a bit of time and energy making sure that we're managing those relationships well, and we're figuring out to do things together that help both sides. We're really happy about both those partnerships.