bet a wards logo*Black Entertainment Television’s highly rated and signature program, the 12th annual BET Awards, or as the network officially titles it: “BET Awards 12,” will air tonight at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific from the venerable Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles … for the last time.

Starting next year, the show will originate from the sparkling, brand new and larger Nokia Theater, the current home of the AMAs and the VMAs. In other words, The BET Awards is moving up to the big time.

So if you thought the BET Awards was something to shout about now, the net says wait ’til next year when they debut the 3 day “BET Awards Experience,” reports the LA Times:

In April, the network announced plans to expand the awards into a three-day destination festival called the “BET Awards Experience” and revealed a freshly inked deal with Anschutz Entertainment Group that will bring the show to the glitzy, $2.5-billion L.A. Live complex for 2013.

It’s an experiment that could prove a tipping point for the network. Though the show is routinely one of BET’s highest rated programs — 2011’s attracted 7.7 million viewers — it continues to be eclipsed by competing music specials including the American Music Awards on ABC and MTV’s Video Music Awards. That could change if the network gives more camera time to the weekend’s events.

“It allows us to take the show to the next level,” said Debra Lee, chairman and chief executive of BET. “We are making more opportunities for advertisers and taking it to a level that can get more consumers involved.”

The area surrounding the Shrine lacks the robust night life scene of L.A. Live, and Lee said the shift allows the network to play a bigger role in pre and post events.

“We talked to the people at L.A. Live before they opened the Nokia, before the Ritz and the Marriott opened so we’ve been having ongoing conversations with how to best utilize that space,” she said. “There is such a demand for the tickets that the more access we can give our audience the closer they feel to us.”

The plan is to have concerts, seminars and a free expo at the properties in L.A. Live’s plaza including Staples Center, Conga Room and Club Nokia — monetizing the event by offering packages to the show, including hotel accommodations.

By the way, the article also noted that BET’s sister network, Centric, will also expand the “Soul Train Awards,” which have been taped in Atlanta for the last few years, into a three-day experience including a comedy showcase and concert.

Read/learn more at LA Times.