Why BET+ Is Quadrupling Down on Original Holiday Movies – and If You’ll See One From Kenya Barris

“We saw a very substantial increase, more than doubling, around the viewing that we would normally get on the movie catalogue that we offer,” Devin Griffin tells TheWrap

A Rich Christmas

BET+ is decking its 2021 holiday-season halls with eight new original movies, four times as many as the Tyler Perry Studios and ViacomCBS-owned streaming service launched last Christmas.

The two-month long rollout of BET+’s new seasonal films, which begins Thursday with “A Rich Christmas,” was planned out by general manager and executive vice president Devin Griffin and his team, following the viewership spike the $9.99-per-month ad-free platform saw with its first two holiday films in 2020: “Kiss Me for Christmas” and “The Business of Christmas,” which has a sequel coming this year.

“We saw a very substantial increase, more than doubling, around the viewing that we would normally get on the movie catalogue that we offer,” Griffin told TheWrap. “And it was really driven by holiday movies that we had originated ourselves, as well as the one that we had licensed.”

Griffin didn’t divulge specifics regarding the number of BET+’s 1.5 million subscribers that viewed the platform’s holiday movie content, or for how long, but it was enough to inspire BET Networks to switch up its holiday 2021 plans.

Last year, BET Networks debuted five total holiday movies, with three new titles premiering on BET and BET Her that later became available for streaming on BET+, in addition to the two movies that were exclusively SVOD offerings. This year, as mentioned above, BET+ will launch eight new holiday movies — “A Rich Christmas,” “Soul Santa,” “The Jenkins Family Christmas,” “Christmas Déjà Vu,” “The Business of Christmas 2,” “Merry Switchmas,” “A Christmas Wish” and “Christmas for Sale” — with six of those films set to later make linear appearances on BET and BET Her. (“The Business of Christmas 2” and “Christmas for Sale” will only be available via BET+.)

“It’s really a carefully choreographed dance that we try to do,” Griffin said. “Because we have a built-in loyal audience that is expecting to see fresh and new programing, both on the linear channel with BET and on BET+.”

While BET+’s eight-movie lineup is certainly small compared to Hallmark Channel’s 31-title slate and Lifetime’s 34-film schedule, it’s not as far off from the 15 holiday flicks Netflix has going up this year. And BET+ packed those eight movies with fan-favorite stars like Bill Bellamy, Loretta Devine, Amber Riley, Valarie Pettiford and David and Tamela Mann, and newbies including Nadia Simms, Brandee Evans and Bailey Bass, with directors and writers of color like Victoria Rowell, Terri Vaughn, Tim Reid and Robin Givens leading the projects.

“We equally take great pride in bringing new names and faces to the space, because that’s what BET has been doing for 40 years,” Griffin said. “There’s so much well-known talent in front of and behind the camera, whether it’s Ava DuVernay behind the camera or Kenya Barris, kind of behind and in front, that have had their first job or had their first-look from BET. So we always try to stay in that energy of bringing new faces again.”

Griffin brought up “black-ish” creator Kenya Barris, who recently left his high-figure Netflix pact earlier this year to form a partnership with BET to launch BET Studios, in this conversation with TheWrap before we did, so we asked the BET+ chief if Barris is likely to take his talents to the holiday TV movie genre for the streaming service now that he’s in the ViacomCBS fold.

“We are not talking about that or making any comments on that,” Griffin said. “All I’ll say is that we know that Kenya is a fountain of creativity and a wealth of ideas and innovation and just amazing stories. So I certainly wouldn’t bet against that, and at the same time, it’s something that is really up to the team on the studio side and the leadership of BET as a whole to figure out what makes the most sense for the business and for where our creators want to do things. So it’s too early to call. But if anyone has a possibility of putting up something that resonates with fans, obviously it’s Kenya.”

As far as what he can say about next year’s holiday movie slate, Griffin says BET+ is already “well into our preparation” for 2022 after making a “thoughtful investment” in quadrupling titles this year over last.

We’re ultimately trying to position ourselves so that we can take what we learn from this year and then flex up or flex down, appropriately. So I don’t really have a crystal ball or a real clear plan that I can convey on that right now because we really try to put ourselves in a position to take what’s happened, learn from that and then apply. So this is definitely a step up for us, and what we want to do is to continue to be judicious, thoughtful and responsible stewards, both of the business, and advocates for our audience and for our fans who are looking to get something that’s really special and unique to BET+ from what we’re offering.”

BET+’s 2021 holiday movie slate kicks off Thursday with “A Rich Christmas.”