Paramount Global Reportedly Drops Plans to Sell BET Media Group Stake, Including BET+ SVOD Service

Paramount Global reportedly has shelved plans to sell its majority interest in BET Media Group — the business unit that includes VH1, BET Studios, the BET+ subscription streaming VOD service, and the BET channel — due to lower-than-expected bids.

While Paramount has made no official comment, The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the situation, reported that the proposed transaction had attracted numerous suitors, including Byron Allen, Sean “Diddy” Combs, “Black-ish” producer Kenya Barris, former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal, and Tyler Perry, who owns a minority stake in Bet+, which launched in 2019.

Despite initial bids upwards of $3 billion, Paramount contended the offers would have had little impact on the media giant’s balance sheets, i.e., lowering debt levels, according to The Wall Street Journal. Paramount bought BET in 2001 from co-founder Robert Johnson for $2.3 billion.

Paramount, like AT&T, which sold off minority stakes with operational control in DirecTV and the former WarnerMedia (now Warner Bros. Discovery), has been trying to lower its debt by selling off units, recently offloading its publishing unit Simon & Schuster to a private equity company for $1.62 billion.

The Walt Disney Co. is also considering selling stakes in what it considers non-core assets, including ABC, FX and ESPN, as the company puts greater focus on streaming video rather than linear TV networks.

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Paramount’s BET+ to Launch Lower-Priced Ad-Supported Subscription Streaming Video Option

Paramount Global’s BET+ subscription streaming VOD service with 3 million subscribers is launching a less-expensive subscription option on June 25 to coincide with the 2023 BET Awards.

The BET+ SVOD service was launched in September 2019 as a partnership between Viacom and actor/producer Tyler Perry. The cost for the BET+ ad-free platform is $9.99. The new BET+ Essential ad-supported option will cost $5.99 monthly.

At launch, ads will be a mix of 15 and 30 seconds in length playing before and during programming and customized to limit viewing interruption.

The ad-supported SVOD tier debut will take place the day before the BET+ debut of dark comedy, “Average Joe,” starring Deon Cole. Other BET+ content includes Emmy-nominated, “Ms. Pat Show,” “The Porter,” “Bruh” and “Kingdom Business.” Original series, “College Hill: Celebrity Edition” just debuted a new season and BET is set to launch docuseries “My Journey to 50,” featuring Gabrielle Union and husband former NBA star Dwyane Wade’s travels across Africa.

“This lower priced, ad-supported tier of BET+ will not only deliver to our audiences, but to the advertising community, which has long expressed an appetite for more non-linear options in reaching the highly coveted, digital-native Black consumer market,” Louis Carr, president of Media Sales, BET Media Group, said in a statement. “Eighty percent of BET+ members watch from a connected TV, and, with the launch of our ad-supported option, we offer advertisers the perfect addition to linear, reaching even more Black viewers when they are most engaged.”

Paramount Looking to Extend Streaming Brand Across All Consumer Access Points

Since rebranding erstwhile subscription streaming platform CBS All Access to Paramount+ less than two years ago, the service has tracked the fastest subscriber growth across the entire SVOD market, which includes Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, Peacock and HBO Max. The service ended the most-recent fiscal period with 46 million subscribers, which, when combined with Showtime Anytime, BET+ and Noggin, totaled 67 million subs worldwide for the company’s SVOD digital footprint.

Paramount’s ad-supported free streaming service, Pluto TV, ended the period with 72 million monthly active users globally.

To generate subscriber growth, Paramount has aggressively sought out third-party companies to introduce the Paramount+ service to wider audiences, including Prime Channels (access to Amazon’s massive Prime membership), Walmart+ (free streaming members), and free access to international passengers on British Airways and most recently, domestic travelers on Delta Air Lines, one the nation’s largest carriers handling 50 million passengers annually.

To Jeff Schultz, chief strategy officer and chief business development officer of Paramount Streaming, the moves underscore the media company’s goal to expose subscription streaming and free, ad-supported content to a diverse consumer base across the world’s largest retailer, e-commerce platform and airline. 

With streaming the focus among Paramount’s content studios, brands, franchises, ad sales and distribution, product and technology in 30 markets around the globe, being able to attract a household of users (rather than individuals) through diversity of content such as kids content, procedurals, sports and news, is a competitive advantage , according to Schultz.

In addition to the “Top Gun,” “Paw Patrol,” “Scream,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Mission: Impossible” movies, Paramount+ offers access to TV franchises such as Criminal Minds,” “SpongeBob,” “NCIS,” “CSI” and “Yellowstone.”

“Paramount brings a unique level of creativity and ambition to deal-making and we’re not satisfied unless we’re doing deals that are different and differentiated from others,” Schultz said in the company’s “Stream On” interview.

The executive contends that the diversity of content, franchises and distribution are all distinct competitive advantages that money can’t buy.

A franchise is not a decision, it’s an asset,” Schultz said. “What the streaming market has shown us in recent years is that money is not enough. We bring that to streaming as a unique competitive advantage over even the biggest streamers.”

ViacomCBS Ups Scott Mills to CEO of BET

ViacomCBS Nov. 22 announced the promotion of Scott Mills from president to CEO of Black Entertainment Television (BET).

During his four-year tenure as president, Mills spearheaded changes within BET for future success in a rapidly evolving media landscape. Since his appointment in 2018, Mills expanded the BET brand well beyond the framework of a traditional cable network with the launches of BET+, a premium subscription streaming service and BET Studios, a studio venture providing equity ownership to black content creators.

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Mills was instrumental inking partnerships with Tyler Perry, Lena Waithe, Kenya Barris and Lee Daniels, among others.

“Under Scott’s leadership, BET has reached new heights with continued commercial success and profound cultural impact during a period of immense industry and social change,” Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS, said in a statement.

Under Mills’ leadership, BET will continue to build upon its 40-year legacy of entertaining black audiences and its commitment to entertain, engage and empower the African-American community.

Philanthropy has always been central to BET’s mission, however Mills’ dedicated social impact strategies have inspired company- and industry-wide change. One such example is Content for Change, a multi-pronged initiative that leverages data to effect societal change and combat bias, that was recently adopted across the entire ViacomCBS organization.

Whether investing in black communities, discovering, and fostering black creatives and talent, or rallying black leaders across business, media and entertainment to raise nearly $20 million in COVID-19 relief to support black communities hit the hardest by the virus, BET remains an industry leader in premium content and steadfast in its duty to the community.

BET+ Streaming App is Coming to Vizio SmartCast

Vizio Aug. 3 announced that viewers of its SmartCast streaming video platform will soon have on-demand access to ViacomCBS’s BET+ streaming service. BET+ offers movies, TV shows, comedy and stage plays from black creators.

Content includes: “First Wives Club,” “Tyler Perry’s Ruthless,” “The Family Business” and “American Gangster: Trap Queens” from creators Tracy Oliver, Tyler Perry and Carl Weber, in addition to catalog series “Martin,” “House of Payne” and “Being Mary Jane.”

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“This addition to our line-up of premium apps aligns perfectly with our dedication to deliver content for every audience that can be enjoyed instantly on the big screen,” Katherine Pond, VP of business development, said in a statement.

SmartCast users can find BET+ in the app row on the home screen starting Aug. 4. Users can access the streaming service for a free, seven-day trial before purchasing a premium, commercial-free subscription for $9.99 per month.

BET+ joining a list of SmartCast streaming services that includes Apple TV+, Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, Peacock and Amazon Prime Video. SmartCast also includes support for Apple AirPlay 2 and Chromecast built-in, allowing viewers to stream, control, and share content from their phone, tablet, or laptop directly onto the big screen.

Hulu + Live TV Adds Nine ViacomCBS Networks

Hulu + Live TV is adding nine ViacomCBS networks to its channel lineup, including Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr, VH1, CMT, MTV, TV Land and the Paramount Network.

Subscribers will also have on-demand access to TV series titles such as “Freaks & Geeks,” “Moesha” and “Sister Sister.”

Monthly subscription pricing for Hulu + Live TV will remain at $64.99 per month.

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Five ViacomCBS networks — BETher, MTV2, NickToons, TeenNick and MTV Classic — will join Hulu’s entertainment add-on.

Hulu + Live TV offers more than 65 live TV channels, plus the core Hulu on-demand service (normally $5.99 per month as a standalone offering).

BET Dedicates $25 million to ‘Content for Change’ Initiative

ViacomCBS’s BET has launched a $25 million social justice initiative, “Content for Change,” an expansive campaign aiming to use the media plays in shaping and driving individuals’ and communities’ values, perceptions and actions on racial equality.

BET, in partnership with corporate, civil rights and social justice organizations, says it would leverage its position and platforms to positively impact social justice outcomes for Black Americans. The initiative will support the creation, distribution, marketing and promotion of content that will help drive the critical changes needed to eliminate systemic racism and inequality in America.

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“For 40 years, BET has been a unifying space for black people to be seen, heard, showcased and celebrated,” president Scott Mills said in a statement. “As many in America move more boldly and with a greater sense of urgency to address racial inequities, we will utilize the full breadth of our capabilities and partnerships to help drive this critical change.”

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Through the initiative, BET will expand relationships with and support of social justice organizations’ efforts to drive change. In addition, the network will bolster relationships with current content partners and forge relationships with up-and-coming creators to use its platform to rally the voices of Black lives, experiences and calls to action.

The campaign follows in the wake of the death of George Floyd and on the heels of the SOS COVID-19 Relief Effort, which raised $17 million, and the series of recent BET News specials.

This initiative will begin June 19, on Juneteenth — the nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States — with programming celebrating the resilience of the African-American spirit.

BET will premiere original short-form programming, including messages of inspiration, tenacity and hope from Black political leaders and activists. BET will also air inspirational movies, Selma, Marshall, Race and Do the Right Thing.

BET Unveils Programming to Address Systemic Racism, Violence Faced by Black People in America and Possible Solutions

ViacomCBS’s BET June 2 announced a series of programming addressing systemic racism, the violence faced by black people in America and the solutions it claims can help move the country forward. BET is utilizing its linear TV and over-the-top video platforms to deliver the programming.

Scott Mills, president of BET, said the programming underscores a critical need for change in America, as evidenced by the careless murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the tragic history of systemic and lethal racism and inequality in this country.

For the month of June, BET will air a series of programming specials to provide information, insights and strategies that spark meaningful dialogue and help provide solutions to eradicate the racial inequities plaguing our society.

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“We stand in steadfast solidarity with George Floyd’s family, the many victims of racist brutality, and those who are using their voices and platforms to challenge it,” Mills said in a statement. “There are no easy solutions for these systemic issues of racism, injustice, and trauma. BET is leveraging every platform and resource at our disposal to support and inform our community and help identify strategies and viable solutions in this time of crisis.”

The first special airs June 2 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. “Justice Now: A BET News Special,” hosted by Marc Lamont Hill, feature dialogue with George Floyd’s family, former NBA player Stephen Jackson, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), singer John Legend, rapper Tip “T.I.” Harris, Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, activist Tamika Mallory, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, Princeton University Department of African American Studies Chairperson Eddie Glaude, Scholar Peniel E. Joseph, Emerald Garner (daughter of Eric Garner), youth activists Michael McDowell and Luis Hernandez and other African American voices in activism, politics and entertainment to reflect on the killing of Floyd on Memorial Day, the protests that have ensued and systemic racism that have led us to where are today.

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BET News will also produce “Justice Now: A BET Town Hall,” a special virtual telecast that will give voice to the collective grief, anger, fear, needs and hopes of our community and feature community leaders and activists to share their views on the reforms necessary in America’s political and criminal justice systems and the importance of voting at state and federal levels. The panel of experts will also provide tangible solutions for sustainable change. This virtual Town Hall will air later in the week.

Additionally, on June 19, BET will air a presidential forum with President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden invited to “face black America” on national television to address their concerns. Interviewed individually, Trump and Biden will be asked to address a range of critical issues, including the institutional racism that has led to disparities in housing, health, income and the law enforcement and criminal justice systems. They will be asked to provide their specific plans to improve these issues and move America forward.

BET Founder Robert L. Johnson Wants U.S. Government to Pay Blacks $14 Trillion in Reparations for Slavery

Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment (now majority owned by AMC Networks), wants the federal government to give blacks $14 trillion in cash as compensation for the country’s history of slavery.

The U.S. Census Bureau in 2018 estimated there were 47.8 million African-Americans living in a country of 327.2 million. Johnson advocates giving each black American about $293,000 each.

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Speaking on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Johnson, 74, said the funding would acknowledge the fiscal damages owed to blacks in America following a history of fiscal unfairness.

“Wealth transfer is what’s needed,” Johnson said. “Think about this: Since 200-plus-years or so of slavery, labor taken with no compensation, is a wealth transfer. Denial of access to education, which is a primary driver of accumulation of income and wealth, is a wealth transfer.”

Johnson sold BET to Viacom in 2001, becoming the country’s first black billionaire.

“Damages is a normal factor in a capitalist society for when you have been deprived for certain rights,” he said. “If this money goes into pockets like the [coronavirus] stimulus checks … that money is going to return back to the economy.”