Paramount decides it won't sell majority stake in BET Media Group, source tells AP

BET won’t be sold after all: Paramount Global decided against selling the majority stake of the network

Jonathan Landrum Jr
Thursday 17 August 2023 19:46 BST
BET-Sale
BET-Sale

BET won’t be sold after all: Paramount Global decided against selling the majority stake of the network.

Paramount notified bidders late Wednesday night about its decision to conclude the BET Media Group sale process, said a person familiar with the decision who was not authorized to speak publicly. The person said the company determined maintaining a heavy stake in BET creates more value for Paramount than any of the proposals after consulting with a couple highly-experienced financial advisors.

Some popular suitors included actor-director Tyler Perry, music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs and businessman Byron Allen. At one point, some considered Perry as a leading contender based on the two successful series, “The Oval” and “Sistas,” airing on the network. He also owns a minority stake of the BET+ streaming service.

Along with BET, the deal would have included the cable channel VH1.

BET was originally started by Robert and then-wife Sheila Johnson in 1980. Robert Johnson created BET from the basement of his Washington home after securing a $500,000 loan from longtime cable executive John Malone and eventually built the brand into the leading TV network for Black Americans.

Johnson expanded BET by creating smaller digital networks geared to fans of jazz, gospel and hip-hop along with being a publishing house and event production firm. The network was initially led by popular shows like “Bobby Jones Gospel,” “Rap City,” “ComicView,” “Lift Every Voice” and “Teen Summit.”

In the early 1990s, the network became the first Black-controlled television company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

BET has seen a decline in subscribers and revenue over the past decade. Subscribers fell to an estimated 66.3 million in 2022 from 89.5 million in 2014, a peak year for cable television, according to S&P Global. S&P said the cable network’s annual profits have fallen from an estimated peak of $319 million in 2013 to $188 million in 2022.

The jewel of the BET Media Group acquisition could have been BET+, which launched in 2019. BET says the streaming service has more than 3 million subscribers.

BET beefed up its content after Johnson and his then-wife, Sheila, sold BET to Viacom in 2000 for $3 billion – which made them the nation’s first Black billionaires. He remained the CEO until 2006.

“106 & Park” became a flagship program for BET creating opportunities for unknown personalities into household names including A.J. Calloway, Marie “Free” Wright, Terrence J and Rocsi Diaz. The weekday show — which started in 2000 and lasted more than a decade — thrived with a video countdown, interviews and performances. A year later, the network started the BET Awards to celebrate the contributions that people of color have made through entertainment and sports realm.

For years, BET was a platform that highlighted positive images of Black people. But in the mid-2000s, the network’s programming drew heavy criticism from several popular figures — filmmaker Spike Lee to Public Enemy’s Chuck D among them — who accused BET of depicting African Americans in a negative light.

Many took aim at the now-defunct “BET: Uncut,” a late-night mature program that contained highly sexual content.

Big Boi of OutKast was openly taken aback by some of the content on “Uncut” calling it “distasteful” and “soft porn.” Other political figures and activists protested showed their displeasure along with then-co-founder Sheila Johnson who said she had become ashamed of the network in a 2010 interview, suggesting that no one watch including her own children.

“Uncut” was canceled in 2006.

As a result of the criticism, BET took a new approach. The company researched what their viewers wanted to see and created a lineup of more family-oriented shows such as “Reed Between the Lines” and “Let’s Stay Together.” It also brought back “The Game,” which set ratings records for the network, after fans petitioned for the show to return to television following its cancellation on CW.

Some of its top-rated shows now are “Sistas,” “All the Queen’s Men,” “First Wives Club” and “Tyler Perry’s The Oval.” Other shows on the network include “American Soul,” “Tales” and “Boomerang.”

The network also airs the BET Awards, BET Hip-Hop Awards and the NAACP Image Awards.

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AP Business Writer Alexandra Olson contributed to this report.

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