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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 tells The Hollywood Reporter.
A second source tells THR that Tyler Perry, a longtime partner of BET, is engaged in conversations to buy the stake. Perry’s deal with Paramount, which began in 2017, is said to be coming up, 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 around the sale are still in the early stages, and there is no guarantee of any transaction taking place. Other parties are also said to have expressed an interest in the BET businesses.
Another potential suitor is Byron Allen, who controls a number of local TV stations as well as The Weather Channel and other assets via his Entertainment Studios firm. “Byron Allen is interested in buying BET, and he will be pursuing the acquisition of the network,” a rep for the mogul says.
The sources added that if a deal closes, Paramount expects to maintain a minority stake in the business, as well as a commercial relationship. Scott Mills serves as BET’s CEO.
BET is also unusual within Paramount’s portfolio in that some of its divisions have minority investors of their own. BET+, for example, 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 main streaming offering, Paramount+, and as it reviews its holdings and figures out how things piece together in its strategy moving 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 include Local Now and Sports.TV.
Allen told THR‘s Seth Abramovitch in 2020 that his ambitions for his media empire remain big.
“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) acquired BET in 2000 for $2.3 billion.
A number of high-profile advertisers, including General Motors and Coca-Cola, have committed to significantly increase their ad spend on minority-owned media companies. While BET targets a minority audience, its Paramount ownership would not fit that bill.
A Tyler Perry- or Byron Allen- owned BET, however, would.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Paramount’s intention to explore a sale of a BET stake.
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