Black Entertainment Television (BET)

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Black Entertainment Television (BET)

Black Entertainment Television (BET), a twenty-four-hour cable television station and entertainment company, targets African Americans by offering original programming and diverse black musical video programming. BET was founded in 1979 by Robert L. Johnson and aired its first movie, A Visit to the Chief's Son, on January 25, 1980. The station, originally a subsidiary and the primary business of BET Holdings, Inc., reached some 45 million subscribers worldwide by the end of the 1990s. One of the biggest minority-owned businesses in the United States, BET was sold to media giant Viacom for nearly $3 billion in November 2000.

A graduate of Princeton University and past vice-president of government relations for the National Cable and Television Association (NCTA) from 1976 to 1979, Johnson secured a consulting contract with the NCTA and then used the contract to secure a loan from the National Bank of Washington. He also secured a $320,000 loan from John C. Malone, head of Tele-Communications Inc (TCI). After Malone and TCI also paid him $180,000 for a 20 percent share in the network, Johnson created BET. In 1984 Johnson also formed District Cablevision Inc. to serve Washington, D.C., residents. TCI owned 75 percent of the new company, and Johnson encountered several lawsuits by competitors. Yet by 1989 Johnson was able to repay his investors. On October 30, 1991, BET became the first black-controlled company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. On the first day of its listing, the stock value grew from $9 million to $475 million. In 1995 the company relocated to a new $15 million facility. In 1996, BET added a BET/Starz! Channel 3, a premium movie channel. In the same year Johnson pledged $100,000 to Howard University's School of Communication and was awarded the university's Messenger Award for Excellence in Communication.

BET further diversified its holdings by publishing magazines, marketing clothing and cosmetics, and forming a radio network to provide news to urban market radio stations. In 1996 the company entered a partnership with Microsoft to form MSBET, an online service with entertainment news and information.

With the sale of BET to Viacom, founder and present chief executive officer Johnson became the first African American billionaire. In 2002, he also became the first black principal owner of a major sports franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA.

See also Television


Gay, Verne. "Selling Out of Selling Up?" Mediaweek 10, no. 46 (November 27, 2000): 39.

Lohr, Greg A. "The 'BET' That Paid Off." Washington Business Journal 20, no. 8 (June 29, 2001): 24.

Meeks, Kenneth. "Back Talk: With Billionaire & BET CEO Robert L. Johnson." Black Enterprise 35, no. 6 (January 2005): 112.

rachel zellars (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005