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Byron Allen launches bid for Paramount’s BET

Allen's interest in acquiring BET Media could set up a price war with other potential suitors.

Allen's interest in acquiring BET Media could set up a price war with other potential suitors.

Comedian and media mogul Byron Allen. (Photo courtesy Byron Allen Media)

Broadcast and cable network owner Byron Allen is reportedly interested in acquiring the BET Media Group from Paramount Global amid reports that Paramount has explored offered for that brand.

In a statement sent to trade publication Broadcasting & Cable on Monday, a spokesperson for the Allen Media Group confirmed Allen was interested in making a play for BET Media Group, which includes the BET and VH1 cable channels and production firm BET Studios.

“Byron Allen is interested in buying BET, and he will be pursuing the acquisition of the network,” the spokesperson said.

The report came several hours after the Wall Street Journal first noted Paramount’s interest in offering a majority stake of its Black media business to a third party. Trade publication Variety later said comedian and actor Tyler Perry was discussing the matter with Paramount. Perry already owns a minority stake in Paramount’s Black-centric streaming service BET Plus.

Launched in the early 1980s, BET originally time-shared with the Madison Square Garden sports network. A few years later, it became a standalone cable channel owned by Black executives, marking one of the few broadcast or cable outlets to be owned by a minority group at that time.

In 2001, Paramount predecessor Viacom Networks acquired BET for $3 billion, folding it into the MTV Networks portfolio with sister channels VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

Viacom eventually put the majority of its original Black series on VH1 after that network abandoned its music programming format. After the transition, BET became a repository of Black-focused sitcoms, reality programs and the occasional series created by Perry, much of it offered as a window-shop for BET Plus.

Viacom merged with CBS in 2019 to form ViacomCBS, which was renamed Paramount global. Following the merger, Paramount has focused on building its cornerstone premium streaming service Paramount Plus and its free, ad-supported streamer Pluto TV. The BET brand and related programming is found on both services.

The decision to explore a sale of the BET property comes at a time when Paramount is looking to reduce its debt load and operational expenses connected to its streaming endeavors. The company recently issued pink slips to workers considered redundant and affirmed additional cost-cutting maneuvers across its business line.

Allen has been aggressive in pursuing deals to add to his growing portfolio of broadcast and cable networks. In 2018, he acquired majority control of The Weather Channel; over the last few years, he has spent millions of dollars buying local television stations across the country, including two in the Chico-Redding market. Allen says he is committed to spending at least $10 billion to acquire more broadcast and cable stations in the future.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).