The possible sale of the BET cable channel has Tyler Perry, Shaq and 50 Cent circling to buy it: “I thought ‘wow, this is meant to be’
Tyler Perry is one of Black Entertainment Television’s most prolific creators, and just one name in a constellation of stars circling the storied but struggling cable channel.
Rapper Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent, and basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal are said to be part of a group weighing an offer for BET Media Group, which current owner Paramount Global has been considering selling. a majority stake. It has also been reported that music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs is considering making an offer.
The business, which includes the BET and VH1 networks, could be worth about $3 billion, based on annual cash flow. Offers are expected in the coming days, according to people close to the process. A Paramount Global spokesperson declined to comment on any possible sale.
“When this came up, I was like ‘wow, this is meant to be,'” Perry said in an interview. The star, who plays the character Grandma Madea on stage and in movies, produced eight scripted series and around 100 original episodes for BET properties last year.
“What I can tell you is that it is worth much more with me than without me,” he said.
BET debuted at the dawn of an era that redefined television. Launched by businessman Robert L. Johnson in 1980, it became one of the most successful black-owned businesses in history and made Johnson a billionaire. In 2001, he sold BET to Paramount’s predecessor, Viacom, for $3 billion.
Now, with television undergoing another technology-driven metamorphosis, BET’s business has declined as more viewers move to streaming services, adding to the burden on its parent. For the quarter ended March 31, Paramount Global posted an operating loss of $1.2 billion.
As a result of a 2019 production deal with Paramount, Perry owns 25% of BET+, the network’s broadcast channel. He said he discussed expanding his stake in the business with Paramount president Shari Redstone.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to put in a lot of effort,” Perry said, discussing his plans to bid.
Perry’s office has declined to confirm reports that he is working with Ariel Investments, the Chicago-based investment firm with close ties to former President Barack Obama and Perry’s friend Oprah Winfrey.
A spokesperson for Ariel did not respond to a request for comment.
Paramount Global has been hit hard by the continued atrophy of traditional television. This month, the company said it would lay off 25% of the workers in its US cable business and shut down MTV News, which like BET is an iconic but declining fixture from cable’s glory days.
Miami-based media investment firm Group Black, another suitor interested in BET, has assembled a collection of partners that includes Kenya Barris, another accomplished television producer. Barris, whose credits include the hit ABC show Blackishhas a stake in a BET production company.
Group Black partners also include rap star Jackson, who helped create the urban gangster drama “Power” for Starz Inc., and National Basketball Association Hall of Famer and television commentator O’Neal, whose expanding business interests include a stake in the Authentic Brands Group, which owns and licenses formidable but sometimes fading retail brands such as Forever 21, Eddie Bauer and Barneys New York.
A Group Black spokesperson declined to comment on a potential BET offer, calling it “rumor and speculation.” The spokesperson said Group Black “was formed to dramatically transform media ownership and investment.”
Combs, whose assets include music-focused cable and digital network Revolt Media, is also considering bidding for BET, according to news reports. A combination could give the 10-year-old Revolt a broader reach in black homes.
Byron Allen, the former comedian who owns television, production and film properties including The Weather Channel, confirmed that he too has his eyes on BET.
“There is a process and we are involved,” Allen said on Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. He emphasized what he has said in the past: that he believes that BET should be controlled by black owners.
“I’m rooting for Tyler, I’m rooting for P. Diddy and whoever else might be in the process, 50 Cent, Shaquille O’Neal,” Allen said. “I am supporting black ownership when it comes to BET and VH1. That’s just a win-win whoever gets it.”
Allen said potential offers are forthcoming. “Everyone is moving quickly. I think they will have a new owner very soon,” he said.
BET’s financial results have been hit by cable’s decline. As of May 2020, BET had 74.7 million subscribers. By early May of this year, that number had dwindled to 69.7 million, according to Nielsen Cable Universe.
At the same time, BET had net operating income of $463 million and cash flow of $192 million in 2020, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. By 2022, operating income is down to $432 million and cash flow is down to $188 million.
Scott Robson, a senior research analyst at S&P, said BET’s subscribers peaked in 2012 at 91.6 million. He estimates that the network has since lost more than 28 million subscribers, a churn rate comparable to other Paramount Global cable channels such as MTV and VH1.
Despite the challenges, BET stands as a beacon for those looking to own it, a formidable brand with the ability to reach a significant demographic across all digital platforms.
“The reality is that BET is still a gold brand. This is an opportunity for a new owner to reconnect with Black consumers with content and experiences that say, ‘Hey, you can come home.’ We are black owned,’” said Roland Martin, owner of the Black Star Network broadcast channel and regularly discusses the issue of black owned media on his without filter program.
Perry believes that his contributions to BET put him in an ideal position to carry it into the future. He said that he has written hundreds of episodes for the channel and delivered them “in a number that is so profitable that it gives a great return. All of that is more and more reason for it to be mine.”
Perry produces four of the top five scripted shows on cable for black consumers ages 18 to 49, according to Nielsen data, including Is standing and assisted living.
Perry said that under the terms of his current contract with Paramount, he will be free later this year to explore deals with other media outlets. In a recent interview, BET CEO Scott Mills called Perry “an absolute oddity” on film and television.
“There’s nobody in the business like him,” Mills said.