Investors log on to BET for ‘Net venture

New Web site geared toward black auds

HOLLYWOOD — A $35 million investment from Microsoft Corp., Liberty Media Group, News Corp and USA Networks Inc. will enable BET Holdings to launch a Web site targeting blacks.

BET will hold a majority stake of BET.com, skedded to launch in November. BET chairman and CEO Robert Johnson will head the operation.

“We will spend more to launch this product than has ever been spent to launch any African-American product,” Johnson said at a press conference.

In addition to investing in the venture, the site’s partners will also provide millions of dollars for marketing and promotion.

The site will feature customized news, entertainment, technology, finance and career content and other features, including e-mail, instant messaging and e-commerce to sell urban apparel, books, music, beauty and health care, gifts and art, among other merchandise.

“We’re excited to be a partner in this venture and confident that BET.com will become the online destination of choice for the global black community,” Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates said in a taped message.

BET Holdings is the operator of four black-oriented cable television stations, including Black Entertainment Television, three magazines, film production, restaurants and clothing ventures.

Competing sites likely

Generally, blacks have been slow to adopt the Internet, with few sites catering to the demographic. It is hoped the launch of BET.com would spawn a surge in black-themed sites.

The most high-profile Web sites now include the America Online-backed NetNoir service and the community-oriented Blackfamilies.com site owned by Cox Enterprises.

“BET’s emergence into the technology arena marks the beginning of solid African-American representation in the Internet space,” said Debra Lee, prexy and chief operating officer of BET Holdings.

Adds Johnson, “The Internet is the platform for the powerful new digital economy and connected society. The failure of any community to avail itself of the resources of the Internet will limit its ability to succeed in the new millennium.”

BET’s cable offerings reach 57 million households.

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