Debra Lee, the longtime chairman/CEO of BET Networks, is stepping down from her day-to-day responsibilities at the network, according to an email sent to staff today (Dec. 14) and reviewed by Billboard. Scott Mills, currently executive vp and chief administrative officer at parent company Viacom, will re-join BET Networks as its president beginning Jan. 1.
Lee, who joined BET in 1986 and rose to president/CEO of the network in 2005, will remain at the company, with her role shifting towards an ambassadorial and outreach position for BET’s various stakeholders and the community at large. Through the years, Lee has overseen BET’s growth in awards shows, scripted programming, live events and documentaries, and this February was honored at Clive Davis and the Recording Academy’s annual Pre-Grammy Gala with the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons honor, the first woman to have received that award. She will remain as chairman/CEO.
Lee’s exit follows the departure of Stephen Hill, BET Networks’ longtime president of programming, who left the company in March amid a larger restructuring within Viacom.
Prior to taking his current role at Viacom, Mills spent 15 years at BET Networks, eventually rising to become its president and COO. Mills, according to the memo, will oversee strategy and operations on a day-to-day basis, including programming, ad sales and digital. Current BET Networks general manager Michael Armstrong will continue to be charged with multi-platform scheduling, marketing, communications and operations, reporting to Mills.
“In her two decades at the helm of BET Networks, Debi has built BET into a truly global entertainment powerhouse, bringing this dominant African American brand to more than 60 countries and 125 million households,” said Viacom president and CEO Bob Bakish in a statement. “Her vision and leadership, unmatched intuition for what audiences want, and ability to attract and foster top talent — both behind and in front of the camera — have been pivotal to this success. We’re grateful that we will continue to benefit from Debi’s experience and insights.
“Scott is a proven leader who has made exceptional contributions to Viacom and BET for more than 20 years,” Bakish continued. “His strong relationships across the industry — which were instrumental in securing our recent cross-house deal with Tyler Perry — as well as his track record of success initiating innovative creative ventures, including BET Experience, make him the right person for this role, as we continue to extend this brand across platforms and markets around the world.”
Update (12:31 p.m.): This story has been updated to include a statement from Viacom about the changes.