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BET is rebranding its nearly 32 million subscriber BET J network under the Centric moniker, which will target African-American viewers with music and lifestyle programming, according to Centric general manager Paxton Baker.

The BET and MTV Networks venture was first announced this past April during BET’s upfront presentation to advertisers. Both programmers are owned by Viacom.

BET J (formerly BET on Jazz) has deals with such key distributors as DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems.

During the upfront, BET executives projected the network would have 45 million viewers at launch. At the time, sources close to network said that Centric would also inherit the lion’s share of subscribers from MTV digital channel VH1 Soul to meet its announced distribution goals.

But BET Networks president and chief operating officer Scott Mills told Multichannel News that Centric — handled by MTV Networks’ affiliate-sales team, but otherwise run by BET — would instead work with affiliates to reach 45 million subscribers by 2010.

“We’re pretty confident that as long as the product does well and we work closely with our affiliate partners, people will be optimistic about the network,” Mills said. “We don’t think our distribution will have to come from another place.”

The new network will take aim at Comcast/Radio One-owned TV One in targeting an audience of 25-to 54-year-old African-Americans, while also reaching out to other multicultural audiences.

“We want the network to be reflective of programming that African-Americans and people in general can be proud of,” Baker said.

While the network is officially on the air Sept. 28, BET and MTV are not planning any major marketing campaigns for the channel until 2010. For the immediate future, Centric will run cross-promotional spots through such MTV Networks properties as VH1, MTV and BET.

“This our soft launch, so we didn’t mind putting it out in this time frame,” Mills said. “We’ll do a very big, noisy launch in January, but we know our audience is excited about what we’re about to do so, we’re putting it out there.”

As for the programming, the network for the short-term will rely on acquired reality and music programming fare from its sister networks, including such shows as MTV’s Run’s House and VH1’s The Salt-N-Pepa Show and I Want To Work for Diddy, said Baker.

Centric will also feature new shows originally slated to premiere this fall on BET J, including Leading Men, Lyrical Café and Urban Living, said Baker.

Also on tap for the fourth quarter is the relaunch of the Soul Train Music Awards in November, after a two-year hiatus from television.

The network will also air classic episodes from the long-running Soul Train syndicated music/dance series, including singer Michael Jackson’s first appearance on the show as a member of The Jackson Five. The network will pay homage to the “King of Pop,” who died this past June, with a Jackson-themed primetime programming block during its first night on-air, Paxton said.

Baker said the network will launch its own slate of original programming in the first quarter of 2010. Some original shows already slated for the channel include Model City, a reality show about African-American models in New York City; and Keeping Up With The Joneses, which follows the exploits of a Houston-based female entrepreneur.

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