BET is off the market. Though reports over the summer said that media mogul Tyler Perry, who already has a deal with the network, was the winning bidder, Paramount says the network is no longer for sale.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the news. Bidders were notified on Wednesday. Paramount, then known as Viacom, purchased BET from Robert Johnson in 2000. In 2017, Scott Mills, a longtime Viacom executive who started his career with BET as head of BET.com, was named president and CEO, succeeding Debra Lee.
In the ensuing years, BET expanded from its original focus on music and music videos to more original programming. The New Edition Story, a three-part miniseries that aired in 2017, was one of the network’s most successful shows ever.
Perry joined Diddy and media mogul Byron Allen of Entertainment Studios in bidding for BET when Paramount announced they would sell the channel, packaged with VH1. Multiple reports said that Perry was the winning bidder, but that turned out not to be the case.
BET founder Bob Johnson and his now ex-wife Sheila Johnson sold the network in 2000 after 20 years. Johnson founded the network in 1980 with a $500,000 stake from cable executive John Malone. Over that period, it became one of TV’s most popular networks watched by African Americans.
Its flagship shows, 106 & Park, ComicView, Teen Summit, Rap City, Carribean Rhythms, and news programs hosted by Ed Gordon and Tavis Smiley, propelled careers both in front of and behind the scenes. Many Black comics got their first TV exposure on ComicView, just like future rap stars got their first exposure on Rap City.
Teen Summit was hosted by Lisa Smith and Ananda Lewis, who went on to greater fame as an MTV VJ. BET filled the void when the fledgling MTV channel wouldn’t play Black artists, and their Rap City show was just as crucial to the development of rap as a global genre as MTV’s Yo! MTV Raps show. At one point, BET’s flagship video show 106 & Park, hosted by A.J. Calloway and Marie “Free” Wright, was the top-ranked music request show.
The BET Awards, which the network launched in 2000, featured memorable, viral performances from artists who didn’t get the same love on other networks. Gerald Levert anchored the show’s tribute performances until his own untimely death in 2006.
Destiny’s Child famously did a lap dance performance of “Cater 2 U,” with Magic Johnson, Terrence Howard and Nelly on the Awards, which also did memorable tributes to Prince (both in 2010 and after his passing in 2016), Stevie Wonder and other iconic artists, and featured an epic performance of The New Edition Story actors alongside New Edition.
Yet over the years, BET had its fair share of critics who found some of the network’s programming to be stereotypical and demeaning. BET: Uncut, which showed explicit music videos became a source of criticism, even from Sheila Johnson. It was canceled in 2006.
Due to a combination of cord-cutting, an explosion of streaming content, and other market conditions, BET has fallen out of favor with its audience. Per USA Today, S&P Global says BET lost more than 23 million subscribers from 2014 to 2022, going from 89.5 million to an estimated 66.3 million. They say that BET’s profits dropped from $319 million in 2013 to $188 million in 2022.
Yet, there has been some success with the streaming service BET+, which Perry owns a stake in. A source close to the deal says that Paramount changed its mind after consulting with financial advisors who saw more value in the network remaining under its wing, per AP.
See social media’s reaction to Tyler Perry putting his bid in earlier this year below:
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