Did you know the Travel Channel headquarters is down the street from the Friendship Heights Metro station? Or that the central hub for BET is an office building in Brentwood? If not, it’s understandable: As these types of channels have grown and invested in various productions (scripted shows, for instance), they have expanded operations to traditional entertainment centers in New York and Los Angeles.
Still, while having a strong presence in those cities is necessary for business, the channels all have strong attachments to their Washington headquarters.
Along with PBS — the Arlington-based public television consortium has a Washington presence that cannot be denied — here’s a closer look at some of the major cable stations that call D.C. home.
CEO: Debra Lee
Founded: January 1980
Number of D.C. area employees: About 250
Audience size: 90 million U.S. homes
Target demographic: African Americans, ages 18 to 49
Sister network: Music-themed Centric
Highest-rated show: “Real Husbands of Hollywood”
You may have seen: “106 & Park,” “The Game,” “Let’s Stay Together”
D.C. means making connections:
When it first launched, BET was mostly talk shows and music videos, so the District was the perfect place to house low-cost programming as the channel grew. The network has since created operations in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, but chief executive Debra Lee has a long list of why Washington is an ideal home, including the exposure to Congress and the White House and the chance to make connections with everyone from members of the current administration to FCC commissioners. (Those political types get perks, too — if you look closely in the audience at the annual BET Honors at the Warner Theater, you might see Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. or presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett in attendance.)
Plus, the network — the first African American-controlled company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange — benefits from being in a city heavily influenced by black culture. “I always thought, personally, it was very important for our national audience for BET to come from a predominantly black city,” says Lee, who served on President Obama’s management advisory board.
It’s rare to hear a network executive talk about courting older viewers, but Lee says that the original strategy of aiming for ages 18 to 34 had some drawbacks — the people who had grown up watching BET wanted to keep watching. The channel focuses on 18- to 49-year-olds now, with the average viewer being in the low 30s. “We want to be a network where the young people come to us at an early age through ‘106 & Park’ and then stay with us through [gospel competition] ‘Sunday Best,’ ” Lee says.