BET Awards' Hastily Planned Jackson Tribute Yields Ratings Triumph

By Alesandra Dubin June 30, 2009, 4:54 PM EDT

After Michael Jackson died suddenly on Thursday afternoon, BET worked fast to transform its already-scheduled awards on Sunday at the Shrine Auditorium into a tribute to the pop star. And, in addition to being what some would consider an appropriate format change for a show celebrating black entertainment, the modified broadcast was also a boon for the network: It was the top-watched cable telecast this year and BET's biggest audience ever, according to a press release from the network.

The live broadcast, hosted by Jamie Foxx, drew 10.65 million viewers. About 10 percent of televisions that were on during the broadcast period were tuned to the awards program, uncommonly high for a cable network, according to Nielsen Media Research findings cited in The Los Angeles Times.

Further, BET Awards-related terms dominated the top 10 trending topics on Twitter on Sunday, June 28, and at one point during the telecast accounted for all top 10 trending topics on Twitter.

Not everyone was a fan of the show, however. A widespread group of viewers and bloggers criticized parts of the program, including host Foxx’s persistent album and tour promotion. Many were also uncomfortable with Jackson family patriarch Joe Jackson's promotion of his new label on the red carpet.

“The number of viewers who tuned in to see the BET awards '09 is a testament to Michael Jackson's far-reaching and long-lasting influence and legacy,” said BET Networks chairman and C.E.O. Debra L. Lee in the release. “We're thankful to everyone who played a role in the show, both on stage and behind the camera, and it meant so much to all of us to be there for our audience at this emotional time. Above all, we extend our love and prayers to the Jackson family and are honored that Joe and Janet Jackson were in attendance.”

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