VH1 Soul is dead, long live Centric

Today, the lovely folks at MTV/Viacom removed VH1 Soul from Comcast’s programming slate in my area. Instead, there is a new Viacom channel called Centric.

What is Centric? “What we’re creating is a brand-new network targeted to adult, upscale, sophisticated and aspirational African-American and multicultural audiences,” said BETN president and COO Scott Mills in a Billboard story from April 2009. “We think we have a unique way of serving that demo that no one else can in the space.” However, the story also claims, “Both BET J and VH1 Soul will continue as stand alone channels in addition to Centric’s programming.” That doesn’t seem to be the case.

There’s been a fair amount of online angst about the disappearance of VH1 Soul, which is slowly being removed from cable programming slates across the country. Afrobella, a popular blog run by my former colleague Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik, wrote in January, “If VH1 cancels VH1 Soul, that speaks volumes about what the network is going for. It would indicate that they’d rather support more pseudo celebrities and invest in the lowest class of reality television, than continue to offer fans a channel of music that uplifts and enlightens.” She, along with several other bloggers have directed readers to a petition demanding that Viacom “save VH1 Soul!”

However, few are connecting the end of VH1 Soul with the rise of Centric. It’s simple, really: video channels draw audiences, but not the kind that will commit to appointment viewing. Their ratings are often diffuse, and rarely peak into high numbers, even when Erykah Badu is taking her clothes off. MTV learned this over two decades ago, which is why it gradually shifted from videos to conceptual and reality TV shows. BET and VH1 [update: and MTV] reserves their videos for early mornings (and, in BET’s case, Sundays). At the moment, Fuse TV is the only cable network that predominantly airs music videos.

None of this would matter to the overlords at Viacom if it were not for TV One. The burgeoning success of this black-run Emmis Communications company (albeit with considerable Comcast investment) has finally presented a real — and some would say preferable — alternative to BET. And yes, BET draws a lot of undeserved criticism. It has made pains to reform its programming  since the days of BET Uncut. But the channel suffers from an identity crisis — should it cater to the bratty HBCU kids who love Baldwin Hills, or the conservative single moms who tune in for The Game marathons?

Viacom is undoubtedly betting that Centric, a new brand with none of BET’s complicated history, can compete with TV One. It will offer a mix of reality shows (one is called Model City and focuses on male models), re-runs of popular black programs from the past (including Soul Train), and a bit of current affairs (you know, when President Obama does something interesting). Some of its programming has been recycled from BET, such as the documentary series American Gangster. One easy way to launch Centric is to piggyback on VH1 Soul’s modest but devoted audience, even if it means the virtual end of VH1 Soul.

Why does it have to be VH1 Soul or Centric, instead of both? Perhaps all the online protesters are correct when they hypothesize that soul music is a negligible and underutilized product. I would argue that cable programming trends are moving away from the dedicated channels of the past towards thematic reality TV. Discovery Channel doesn’t run science and nature documentaries anymore, but reality shows about people interacting with nature (see The Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, et cetera). Similarly, Centric will move away from VH1 Soul’s array of actual music performances in favor musicians talking about performing, their hedonistic lifestyles, et cetera.

And if you don’t like that, well, there’s MTV Jams for you.

It may be too early to write VH1 Soul’s epitaph. Viacom is slowly rolling out Centric, and it hasn’t announced its ultimate plans for VH1 Soul yet, perhaps to avoid angering the channel’s fan base. Maybe it’ll continue to offer a diminished version of the VH1 Soul to select markets. But that seems doubtful.

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22 Responses to VH1 Soul is dead, long live Centric

  1. Qiana Davis says:

    this is terrible! i want my vh1 soul back! this centric crap sucks!
    i loved vh1 soul for so many reasons… 1 reason is because vh1 soul gave artist who were not pop artist a chance to be heard. bring vh1 soul back to california!

  2. Qiana Davis says:

    http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/SaveVH1Soul
    YOU DONT HAVE TO DONATE… JUST CLICK NO THANKS JUST SUBMIT MY SIGNATURE

  3. Jake says:

    This is just awful. I just got back from vacation and found VH1 soul was gone. I will be cancelling my Comcast subscription asap, and switching to a provider that carries VH1 Soul. Centric is just cookie-cutter TV. VH1 soul was such a unique channel.

  4. Anonymous says:

    THIS SUCKS….VH1 Soul Always made my evenings a little better with their great music videos.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Its sad that there no more than 5 black/urban channels. But i counted more than 10 spanish channels. We can fuss and complain, write all the letters we want. They will fall on deaf ears. Lets face it, VH1 is gone for good.

  6. steve g says:

    with all the crap on tv why take off the only good ch. I may drop comcast soon.

  7. EAC says:

    Hmmm. I’m still getting VH1 Soul through Comcast in my area.

  8. plugoneboss says:

    Right. VH1 Soul is still available in many markets and cable providers. And this analysis/opinion piece is based on a few news stories, blog posts, and some guesswork. Viacom hasn’t made any announcement on the future of VH1 Soul, and it may very well survive in its current, albeit diminished form. Only time will tell.

  9. Anonymous says:

    If I don’t drop comcast altogether I’m definitely going to a cheaper package now!

  10. Stacy says:

    I was shocked to come home from work in mid-April to find my VH-1 soul replaced by Centric. And while I applaud the introduction of a new primarily black TV station, it sucks that I’ve lost what I’ve valued for the past 10 yrs. Having moved from New Orleans to New Mexico, VH-1 soul was the only way I was able to keep in touch with what my people (black people) were doing and how they were doing it. All I can say I wish I had known before I locked into a 2 year contract with Comcast.

  11. D'Wana says:

    I can’t stand Centric!!! its a waste of a channel, its a Frankenstein channel, they tried to mix the old shows of TV one, the new shows of BET, and advertise for VH1! Its a train wreck! Vh1 soul I watched 24/7 because none of the other station don’t even play music anymore and if they do its the same shit that they blast on the radio everyday. It was unique and it represented black music a lot better than BET does, bring back Vh1 soul and get rid of that centric crap

  12. plugoneboss says:

    Thanks to everyone for commenting on this post, whether something about it moved you to add your feedback, or it just served as a place to vent about Centric.

    Frankly, I watch the channel occasionally, but only for the “American Gangster” re-runs. And I think that speaks to the idea, as D’Wana put it, that this is a Frankenstein channel. I don’t mind Centric’s attempts to create appointment viewing, and I don’t mind the idea that VH-1 Soul failed at creating appointment viewing that resonated commercially. But using re-runs of “Soul Train” and “American Gangster” to battle TV One’s superior programming seems really cynical to me. And I’m not impressed by the slate of crappy reality shows Centric will offer in the fall.

    One thing I didn’t address in my post: I used to watch VH-1 Soul. A lot. Like D’Wana said, it was virtually the only place where you could see videos by indie soul artists like Eric Roberson as well as mainstream acts like Raheem DeVaughn that get no love from MTV and Fuse (and minimal attention from BET). I didn’t spend five hours a day watching it, but I tuned in quite often, if only to listen to good music and learn what was happening in modern soul. Judging by what it has offered so far, I doubt I will do that with Centric.

  13. bayareacutiepie says:

    wow!!!! I love this piece!!! I just sent an angry tweet to centric tv because of my frustration of what used to be bet jazz. The channel has given in to stupid 80’s sitcoms and even dumber reality shows…The music contet comes on in cali at 3am-6am and that’s not even daily…I watched vh1 soul all of the time and was angry when I saw that my comcast provider got rid of it. I also have satellite and they don’t even carry it. I think it’s a conspiracy quite frankly. “They” want “us” to listen to the botty poppin, cane slang, gang bangin tunes all day, continue to bring us down instead of enlightening us with some positivity and creativity. That is what it comes down to. Now my only outlet for REAL music is the internet. Although there is a music channel in my area called MYX tv that caters to asians, but the actually have real soul on there channel. Since I listen to all music, especially Korean, I find that this is my saving grace. And no i’m not Korean, I’m black…but I have respect for good music. Anyhow, I hope BET, Centric, Vh1…somebody comes to their senses and brings back the soul music I and so many others want….I’m gonna copy this link to your article and send it out…everyone needs to see it.

  14. VJ says:

    Nice article. Great information. Thanks for the heads up.

    e-mail me veronica_jnkns@yahoo.com. I have a couple of questions for you in this regard.

    Take care

  15. Cedric Soul says:

    Bring back VH1 SOUL! NOW THAT F UP THAT THEY DID THAT TO A CHANNEL WITH SUCH MUSIC MEANING AN FOOL OF MUSIC INSPIRATION AN KNOWLEDGE AN YOUTH TO THE COMMUNITY.

  16. I’m overwhelmed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!BRING BACK VH1 SOUL to us::::::::

  17. Pacomen says:

    Vh1 Soul……. porfavor ……. regresa ¡¡¡¡¡¡¡

  18. adam says:

    yes i love real music like vh1- soul i love all music vh1-classic like the metal show i still have vhi-soul its so good it shows the class of the new school like music back in the day and some oid . i love metal/ neo soul/blues /dance/ funk/ go go /contry/ hip hop but not the kind that puts down woman and the gangter crap and all kinds of music you can think of and i wound be mad to but still have for now hope i will still get and im not black . p.s some one said above about when bet jazz changed to the centric channel man i was mad that channel was so great so good luck i will put a conplain for all of you .

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  20. Anonymous says:

    That new centric is wack!!!!!!!!

  21. im crying hard because vh1soul its like my life 🙁 🙁 :(:(

  22. Muumba says:

    In my area vh1soul has become bet soul. Why I do not know. I wonder why vh1 does not mess with all the country stations..

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