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BET.com, Verizon to Enter Agreement Today

Verizon and BET.com — the online property of BET Holdings Inc., the parent company of Black Entertainment Television — announced a three-year, $3 million agreement that will enable the communications service provider to tap into the portal's mostly African-American base.

Under the terms of the agreement, Verizon, New York, will sponsor BET's Lifestyles channel and will work with BET to develop new features and services on the page.

Verizon, which becomes BET's exclusive telecommunications services provider, will place hyperlinks to its Web site on BET's home page, where BET users will be able to access Verizon bills and find out about some of the company's new product offerings. The deal also allows Verizon to offer BET users exclusive promotional packages, including still undetermined wireless and long-distance specials.

The promotional packages will be available on the Verizon banner space on BET's Web site, said Michael Pickrum, vice president of business development at BET, Washington. Promotional packages also will be delivered to the company's “several hundred thousand” registered subscribers via opt-in e-mails and biweekly e-mail newsletters, he said.

“A lot of our subscribers sign up for additional information on anything from products and services to content,” Pickrum said. “And what we're doing with Verizon is, for those subscribers that have decided to opt in, we will be able to send them very specific products and services offers.”

The deal also includes a co-branded communications center on the Lifestyles channel, Pickrum said, which will offer BET users communications advice, such as accessing e-mail from cellular phones.

Meanwhile, Verizon partnered with BET hoping to take advantage of the apparent increase in African-Americans using the Internet, said Gregory R. Smith, director of multicultural markets at Verizon. Citing a Forrester Research report, he said there was a 10 percent jump in African-American online activity from 1999 to 2000, rising from 23 percent to 33 percent.

“If online penetration is growing faster in the ethnic community than it is in the mass market, and this is one of the fastest-growing segments, it makes sense for us to be a part of that,” Smith said.

Verizon also saw the African-American market as potentially profitable because the segment tends to use value-added features, such as caller ID and call waiting, more than the mass market, Smith said.

Verizon representatives were unable to provide data to support this claim.

Smith said the deal, at the time when Verizon and BET began negotiating in September, marked the first time a telecommunications company partnered with a minority-owned dot-com entity. Since then, BET was acquired in November by Viacom for $3 billion.

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