Date: 6th November 2000

Viacom Bets On Bet

In one of the biggest mergers in history involving a black-owned company, Viacom has bought BET Holdings, the parent company of the Black Entertainment Television channel, for $3 billion in stock and the assumption of $570 million in debt. BET chairman and CEO Robert Johnson, who founded the company, will continue to run it, along with President and COO Debra Lee, the companies said Friday. The pair will report to Viacom President and COO Mel Karmazin. "In the cable industry, there is nobody on the level of Bob Johnson in terms of being able to be named in the same breath as a Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone," Alfred Edmond, Senior Vice President of Black Enterprise magazine, remarked on CNN Sunday. Nevertheless, James Winston, executive director of the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters, told today's (Monday) Wall Street Journal that he finds it "troubling to see one more major African-American company consolidated into a giant corporation. We can expect that some of the uniqueness of BET will be lost." But in a conference call with analysts and reporters, Johnson said that Viacom's other units, including CBS, UPN and Paramount "provide programming potential for BET. ... We have a jazz channel that could benefit from the tremendous distribution that Viacom's MTV has been able to gain internationally."

Source: Studio Briefing