Paramount Global is weighing the possibility of putting its Black media business up for sale, with a potential third-party acquiring a majority stake in the sector that operates Black Entertainment Television (BET) and VH1, according to a report.
On Monday, the Wall Street Journal said the move could help bolster Paramount’s cornerstone streaming service Paramount Plus as well as its ad-supported streamer Pluto TV, citing unnamed people who were familiar with the company’s thinking.
Such a move would be a shift in strategy for Paramount, which has incorporated elements of its Black media businesses into Paramount Plus, Pluto TV and the multiplex movie network Showtime. Both Paramount Plus and Pluto TV have streaming channels that offer entertainment targeted at Black viewers; a network included in Showtime’s cable and satellite packages shares a name with BET.
It wasn’t clear if Paramount has discussed the matter with potential suitors, nor was it known if the company was hoping to court a third party in the media space or another sector. Later in the day, entertainment trade publication Variety said comedian and actor Tyler Perry was discussing the acquisition, citing unnamed sources.
Paramount offers at least one Black-oriented streaming service, BET Plus, a brand that is co-owned with Perry. The Journal said folding BET Plus into Paramount Plus could be difficult because of Perry’s partial ownership. BET Studios has several minority stakeholders, including Rashida Jones, the Journal said.
BET was launched in 1980 and shared time on a cable channel that was majority occupied by the Madison Square Garden Sports Network (MSG Network). From launch, BET offered a mixture of music videos and sitcom re-runs that were intended to appeal to Black audiences. The channel became a full standalone operation in 1983.
From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, BET became synonymous with Black entertainment: The channel had its own news division, launched original programs and even licensed full-length films that were overlooked by premium movie networks like HBO and Cinemax. BET built on its film ambitions with the launch of its own production arm and a joint venture with multiplex network Starz; the latter was dissolved within a few years.
BET was acquired by Viacom Networks in 2001 for $3 billion and was incorporated into a portfolio of other cable networks that included Nickelodeon, VH1, Comedy Central and TV Land. Viacom merged with CBS in 2019 to form ViacomCBS, now Paramount Global.
While BET has launched several spin-off networks — including BET Jams, BET Her and BET Gospel — none of those ancillary channels have rivaled the main network. Even still, over the years, BET has become a shell of its former self, with newer Black-oriented programming moving to VH1, leaving BET with re-runs of sitcoms, reality shows and Tyler Perry-produced programs.
BET has also faced significant competition from upstart channels, including Aspire and Urban One’s TV One and Cleo TV., which are Black-owned enterprises.