Chevy Chase Bank and the parent of Black Entertainment Telvision will market a BET Visa card to African-American households.
The card is the first product from the newly formed joint venture between the two companies-BET Financial Services.
"BET has the unique ability to talk to the black customer every day through a television network," said Robert L. Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of Washington-based BET Holdings Inc. "Chevy Chase thought they could devise a credit formula that could work well in attracting that market."
The Maryland-based thrift, with $5 billion of assets, is not a big player in the credit card industry.
But observers said that by forging an affinity with an established name it might have a good chance of expanding its portfolio.
In 1994, the bank issued a cobranded card with the Rolling Stones. In February of this year Chevy Chase took over the Giant Food Visa Card from Manufacturers and Traders Bank of Buffalo.
The staple of BET Holdings is Black Entertainment Television, a 17-year- old cable channel that can be accessed by more than 47 million households.
BET also owns and operates jazz, pay-per-view and movie channels; BET Direct-distributor of a skin care line; two publications, Emerge and BET Weekend, and BET Soundstage-a new theme restaurant. Another asset is the Internet site MSBET, a joint effort with the Microsoft Network.
"BET has good brand recognition and there is a basis to put together a good credit card program in the African-American community," said Chevy Chase executive vice president Stephen Halpin.
But he added, "this is an affinity group. It's not going to be the main focus of our business."
"By focusing on the qualified and the affluent within the black community who do watch BET, there is a clear opportunity for something broader than niche marketing." said Jeffrey Baxter, principal of S.J. Baxter and Associates, Forest Hill, Md.
The card, offered as a classic or gold product, will carry an annual fee. Mr. Halpin said interest rates will be below those normally available to the average consumer.
BET will air 30-second commercials throughout the day to educate cardholders on credit management skills.
"This is more than just a straight card play; Chevy Chase is a big mortgage lender in the Mid-Atlantic area, and it's a fairly large branch banking savings bank," said Mr. Baxter.
Providing mortgage services might be the next step, but "we are probably a year away from that," said Mr. Johnson. "We really want to see how the customers respond to our credit card offering first."