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Paramount is exploring a potential sale of a majority stake in its BET business, which includes BET, VH1 and the BET+ streaming service, a source familiar with the matter said. The Hollywood Reporter.
Another source tells THR that Tyler Perry, a longtime partner in BET, is engaged in talks to buy the stake. Perry’s deal with Paramount, which began in 2017, is said to be on the way, and the BET purchase, if it happens, would give him ownership of the brand that airs many of his shows.
The sources both cautioned that discussions surrounding the sale are still in the early stages and there is no guarantee that any transaction will take place. Other parties must also have expressed an interest in the BET companies.
Another potential suitor is Byron Allen, who controls a number of local television stations as well as The Weather Channel and other assets through his Entertainment Studios company. “Byron Allen is interested in buying BET and will pursue the acquisition of the network,” a representative for the mogul said.
The sources added that if a deal closes, Paramount expects to maintain a minority stake in the company, as well as a commercial relationship. Scott Mills serves as BET’s CEO.
BET is also unusual in Paramount’s portfolio in that some of its divisions have their own minority investors. For example, BET+ counts Perry as an investor, while BET Studios counts Kenya Barris and Rashida Jones as stakeholders. Those deals would complicate any effort to merge BET+ or BET Studios into Paramount+ or one of the company’s other divisions.
Such a deal, if it happens, would give Paramount cash as it continues to build out its primary streaming offering, Paramount+, and as it reviews its holdings and figures out how things fit into its strategy going forward.
In January, the company announced plans to merge its Paramount+ and Showtime businesses.
For Perry, a deal would not only give him and his company a pair of widely distributed cable channels, but also ownership of a streaming service that could grow into a business of its own.
For Allen, a deal would mean an expansion of his cable business (The Weather Channel, like BET and VH1, is widely distributed) and another new streaming service to add to his portfolio of offerings that includes Local Now and Sports.TV.
Allen told THR‘s Seth Abramovitch in 2020 that his ambitions for his media empire remain large.
“I’m close to the same age when Rupert Murdoch came here to America,” he said. “He was in his 50s. I’m 59. What you see today will be 10,000 times bigger.”
Founded in 1980 by former cable lobbyist Robert Johnson and his wife Sheila Johnson, the BET channel was the first cable network to specifically cater to African-American audiences. Paramount (then known as Viacom) bought BET in 2000 for $2.3 billion.
A number of high-profile advertisers, including General Motors and Coca-Cola, have committed to significantly increasing their ad spending on minority-owned media companies. While BET targets a minority group, its Paramount ownership wouldn’t fit that bill.
A bet owned by Tyler Perry or Byron Allen would, however.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Paramount’s intention to explore a sale of a BET stake.