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.”

AMC Networks’ RLJ Entertainment Narrows Q3 Operating Loss

RLJ Entertainment has struggled to be profitable ever since BET founder Robert L. Johnson acquired Acorn Media and Image Entertainment in 2012 to form the home entertainment distributor.

Spurred by over-the-top video successes of Acorn TV and Urban Movie Channel (UMC), AMC acquired majority ownership of RLJ Entertainment in 2018 for $65 million.

AMC Oct. 31 reported RLJE posted third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) net revenue, operating loss and adjusted operating income of $31 million, $1 million and $3 million, respectively.

Robert L. Johnson

For the nine months of the fiscal year, RLJE recorded net revenue, operating loss and AOI of $79 million, $6 million and $5 million, respectively.

RLJE operates under AMC’s “International and Other” segment, which includes AMC Networks International, the company’s international programming businesses; Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC; Levity Entertainment Group, the company’s production services and comedy venues business; and IFC Films, the company’s independent film distribution business.

“We are optimizing the value and reach of our content in a variety of ways and executing on a plan that will enable us to thrive in a very dynamic and competitive environment,” Josh Sapan, CEO of AMC Networks, said in a statement.

Indeed, Acorn TV recently surpassed 1 million subscribers in North America.

International and Other revenue for the third quarter increased 20.5% to $183 million, operating loss decreased $5 million to a loss of $12 million, and adjusted operating income (AOI) increased $6 million to $13 million, all compared to the prior year period.

International and Other revenue for the nine months increased 30.2% to $533 million, operating loss increased $8 million to a loss of $53 million, and adjusted operating income increased $24 million to $35 million, all compared to the prior year period.

Third quarter revenue primarily reflected $31 million related to the acquisition of RLJE.

Third quarter operating loss and adjusted operating income reflected the increase in revenue as well as an increase in operating expenses. The increase in operating expenses were primarily attributable to the acquisition of RLJE.

As previously disclosed, in connection with the acquisition of RLJE, the AMC acquired RLJE’s 64% interest in Agatha Christie Limited (“ACL”), which manages the intellectual property and publishing rights based on the late author’s works.

As a result of the RLJE acquisition, AMC modified its definition of AOI to include majority owned equity investments. For the third quarter, the company recorded adjusted operating income of $1 million related to ACL. For the nine months of the fiscal year, AMC recorded adjusted operating income of $4 million related to ACL.

 

Viacom’s $9.99 BET+ Streaming Service Launches

Viacom Sept. 19 launched just its third branded domestic subscription streaming video service BET+, priced at $9.99 per month.

The SVOD service complements BET’s linear network, which launched in 1980 by Robert L. Johnson. Additional access points include BET.com and the BET Now app for TV Everywhere users.

In addition, BET’s recently launched channel on Pluto TV will continue to feature classic films and box office hits from the best of black Hollywood.

The service follows previous launches of preschool-based Noggin and Comedy Central Now. Viacom also owns and operates ad-supported Pluto TV.

Ironically, BET+ will compete directly against AMC Networks’ Urban Movie Channel (UMC), the SVOD created in 2018 for African American and urban audiences — by Robert L. Johnson’s RLJ Entertainment.

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BET+ is also available on the App Store for iPhone and iPad, Android devices, Android TV devices, Amazon Fire TV and Prime Video Channels.

Users can also subscribe directly through Apple TV channels and watch in the Apple TV app, on demand and ad-free, across their devices for online and offline viewing.

The joint venture by BET Networks and Tyler Perry Studios launches with more than 1,000 hours of ad-free premium content, including exclusive new original programming and a broad array of top African-American-focused dramas, sitcoms, films, and specials from BET and sister networks within the Viacom portfolio.

Additionally, BET+ will offer an exclusive collection of Tyler Perry films, television, and stage plays. The service will also provide a host of content from leading African American creators, including Tracy Oliver, Will Packer, along with fresh new voices, on both sides of the camera. New titles will be added to the service regularly.

Initial content includes all nine episodes of BET+ original series, “First Wives Club,from Girls Trip screenwriter Tracy Oliver, and starring Ryan Michelle Bathe, Michelle Buteau and Jill Scott.

New weekly original series,Bigger— a 10-episode comedic series from hitmaker Will Packer (“Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man.”) — gives fans a taste of what’s to come by making the first three episodes of the series available now.

The remaining episodes of will be released every week beginning Sept. 26. In addition to its new original content, BET+ is also now streaming the comedy series, Martin”.

In the coming months, BET+ will stream Tyler Perry’s theatrical films, including the Madeafranchise; new original series; and a selection of Perry’s stage plays —Meet the Browns,” “Daddy’s Little Girls,” “Family That Preys,” and “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” among others.

BET+ will stream a lineup of African American TV, movie and musical content including BET’s library series, films, documentaries, and specials such as “The Bobby Brown Story,” “The New Edition Story,” “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” “The Quad,” “Being Mary Jane,” “Love & Happiness: An Obama Celebration, ” “College Hill,” “Comic View,” “Hell Date,” “Keyshia Cole: All In,” “Nellyville” “Reed Between The Lines,” “Ali: People’s Champ,” “Katrina: 10 Years Later,” “Killer Curves,” “BET Awards,” “Hip Hop Awards,” “Soul Train Awards,” “Black Girls Rock,” “Boomerang,” “Harlem Nights,” “Coach Carter,” “Losing Isaiah,” and “Tina Turner Live In Holland,” among others.

Viacom library TV shows include VH1’s “Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta,” “Basketball Wives,” “T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle,” Comedy Central’s “Why? With Hannibal Buress”, MTV’s “Todrick,” TV Land’s “Soul Man,” Nick @ Night’s “Instant Mom,” and more.

In the coming weeks, BET+ will feature stand-up comedy specials from D.L. Hughley, Eddie Griffin, Nick Cannon, Sasheer Zamata (Saturday Night Live), Lil Rel (Get Out), Gina Yashere (The Daily Show), and Sinbad.

 

RLJ Entertainment Narrows Q1 Loss, Ups Revenue

AMC Networks subsidiary RLJ Entertainment May 1 recorded first-quarter (ended March 31) operating loss of $3 million, which was 51% less than the $6.1 million net loss from the previous-year period when the home entertainment distributor was a separate company. Revenue increased 19% to $22 million from $18.5 million last year.

Last Halloween, AMC acquired majority ownership of RLJE, making Robert L. Johnson’s namesake company a privately-owned subsidiary of AMC, with a 17% minority stake held by Johnson.

In addition to packaged media and digital distribution, AMC sought RLJE’s over-the-top video services — Acorn TV and Urban Movie Channel, which collectively have almost 1 million subscribers, and majority interest in Agatha Christie Limited.

Agatha Christie Limited generated operating income of $2 million.

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AMC’s other branded OTT ventures include Sundance Now and Shudder, which together with RLJE, AMC Networks International, IFC Films and production services company Levity Entertainment Group, generated an operating loss of $14 million on revenue of $171 million.

That compared to an operating loss of $17 million on revenue of $111.7 million during the previous-year period.

Overall, the network behind “The Walking Dead” and “Killing Eve,” reported net income of $143 million on revenue of $784 million. That compared to income of $157 million and revenue of $741 million last year.

“With our focused, well-priced and desirable collection of [business] assets, we occupy a differentiated space in the media landscape,” CEO Josh Sapan said in a statement.

AMC recently greenlit a third “Walking Dead” original series. “Fear the Walking Dead,” just began its fifth season. Launch date for 10th season of ‘The Walking Dead” hasn’t been announced.

AMC Networks Completes Acquisition of RLJ Entertainment

AMC Networks Nov. 1 announced it completed the acquisition of home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment, after the latter’s stockholders approved the transaction at a special meeting on Oct. 31.

AMC Networks acquired all of the shares of common stock of RLJE not owned by founder and namesake Robert L. Johnson, for about $59 million in cash.  RLJ Entertainment is now a privately-owned subsidiary of AMC Networks, with Johnson and his affiliates owning a stake of 17%.

RLJE operates two subscription streaming services with about 1 million combined subscribers: Acorn TV, known for its British and international mysteries and dramas; and UMC, which offers films, documentaries, original series and comedy for African-American and urban audiences.

The growth of Acorn TV has been driven by the current release of “A Place to Call Home.” Other pending original programs include, “Agatha Raisin,” “Queens of Mystery” and “London Kills.” UMC original series include “Monogamy” and “5th Ward.”  Recent releases from RLJE Films include MandyArizona and Galveston.

“Our businesses each serve unique audiences and have a strong connection to their viewers,” Miguel Penella, CEO of RLJ Entertainment, said in a statement. “”AMC Networks has been an ideal partner as we developed Acorn TV and UMC for their respective audiences.”

In addition, RLJE owns a majority stake in Agatha Christie Ltd., a popular IP franchise. Last year’s 20st Century Fox Kenneth Branagh-directed adaptation of Murder on the Orient Expressgrossed more than $350 million in worldwide box office. It sold more than $9 million in combined DVD/Blu-ray Disc units from 20thCentury Fox Home Entertainment.

Forthcoming adaptations include Fox’s Death on the Nilesequel as well as the BBC’s recent multi-show deal with Agatha Christie Productions for seven dramas based on the author’s works.

“This acquisition furthers AMC Networks’ direct-to-consumer strategy and accelerates our interests in subscription video-on-demand services that we own and control,” said Josh Sapan, CEO of AMC Networks.

RLJ Entertainment Founder Bob Johnson Claims Racial Profiling Following Luxury Hotel Check-In Dustup

Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television and home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment, reportedly claims he was racially profiled when attempting to check into a luxury hotel in South Florida, according to ABC TV affiliate 25 WPBF News.

The billionaire entrepreneur on Aug. 24 was attempting to check-in for a two-night stay at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan, Fla., when the receptionist asked him to remove his sunglasses.

Johnson, who owns 165 hotels and recently sold majority stake in RLJ Entertainment to AMC Networks, refused, claiming they were prescription glasses. Instead, he gave the receptionist his Florida driver’s license, American Express card and U.S. passport.

“She said, ‘well, I can’t check you in if you don’t take off your glasses,’” claiming it was to protect him against fraud, according to Johnson.

Johnson reportedly asked the staff to call police, who responded and talked to the businessman. After no compromise was reached, Johnson left.

A spokesperson for the hotel said the policy of removing sunglasses is for the protection of guests.

“It is standard operating procedure in the industry to ask to make sure that the person who is presenting themselves to check-in and they present identification that it does match and if they’re wearing dark glasses with a ball cap low over their face, you want to make sure that it is the same person, much like what would happen at TSA rules going through the airport,” said the rep.

Johnson disagrees.

“I think it’s a silly rule and I think it has overtones of racial profiling,” he told 25 WPBF News.

AMC Networks Pulls Trigger on RLJ Entertainment Merger

AMC Networks has agreed to buy majority (50.1%) interest in RLJ Entertainment, including over-the-top video properties Acorn TV and Urban Movie Channel (UMC), for $65 million in cash.

AMC’s $6.25 per share offer represented a 47% increase from its $4.25 per share offer in February. In 2016, AMC entered into a merger-agreement with RLJE, giving $65 million in loans (now valued at $78 million) with the option to acquire the Bethesda, Md.-based home entertainment distributor.

AMC’s move puts a value of $274 million on RLJ Entertainment, which was created in 2012 by Robert L. Johnson through the merger of Image Entertainment and Acorn Media Group. Johnson, who founded and sold Black Entertainment Television (BET) to Viacom, retains a 17% stake in RLJ Entertainment, which becomes a private subsidiary of AMC.

“[Bob Johnson’s] management team is extraordinary, having successfully transitioned Acorn TV from a home video and DVD business to a leading direct-to-consumer subscription service,” Josh Sapan, CEO of AMC Networks, said in a statement.

Acorn TV was launched in 2011 by Acorn Media Group as a competitor to Netflix streaming British TV shows and movies over the Internet. Together with UMC, the two OTT video services have a combined 800,000 monthly subscribers – up 100,000 subs since the end of 2017.

While Sapan appears confused about Acorn TV’s history as a distributor of packaged media (it wasn’t), the CEO is spot on recognizing the value of RLJE’s majority stake in the Agatha Christie library — a brand filled with IP opportunities.

In 2013, RLJE licensed the film rights to Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express to 20th Century Fox, which released a new feature film co-starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh in 2017.

Murder on the Orient Express, which starred Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe and Michael Pena, among others, generated $352 million at the global box office. The title generated more than $9 million in combined DVD/Blu-ray Disc sales.

“This acquisition furthers AMC Networks’ digital strategy by meaningfully accelerating our interests in direct-to-consumer ad-free subscription services that we own and control, in addition to providing us with access to strong IP as we continue to diversify our revenue opportunities, placing AMC Networks in a stronger position over the long term,” Sapan said.

RLJ Entertainment in May reported a first-quarter net loss of $6.5 million, compared with a net loss of $6.1 million during the previous-year period. Revenue increased 34% to $18.5 million, from $13.8 million a year ago.

 

 

RLJ Entertainment Ups Q1 Loss

Independent distributor RLJ Entertainment May 10 reported a first-quarter net loss of $6.5 million, compared with a net loss of $6.1 million during the previous-year period. Revenue increased 34% to $18.5 million, from $13.8 million a year ago.

RLJE, which includes Image Entertainment, Agatha Christie Ltd., RLJ Entertainment Ltd., and Acorn Productions Ltd., attributed the higher loss to non-cash warrant expense driven by the appreciation of the company’s stock price.

RLJE said increase in revenue was primarily driven by the over-the-top video business.

The digital channels unit, which includes Acorn TV and Urban Movie Channel (UMC), saw the collective subscriber base increase 44% to more than 750,000 members, from 520,000 in the previous-year period. Segment revenue increased 45% to $8.7 million from $6 million last year.

“Our increased investments in unique and original content, expanded consumer awareness and broader distribution resulted in a strong first quarter,” CEO Miguel Penella said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the wholesale distribution segment, which includes packaged media, saw revenue increase nearly 25% year-over-year – driven by digital distribution.

“Digital sales led … as we continue to transform the business from physical to digital [content],” Penella said.

Equity earnings from Agatha Christie Limited increased 42% to $800,000 — driven by film and publishing business segments. RLJE owns 64% of the company that manages Christie’s literary works, including more than 80 novels and short stories, 19 plays, and 40 TV movies, featuring characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marble.

In 2013, RLJE licensed theatrical, home entertainment rights to Murder on the Orient Express to 20th Century Fox Film Corp. Fox released a remake last December, starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh, that generated $351 million at the global box office. Fox released the title into retail channels Feb. 27.

As previously reported, CFO Nazir Rostom is leaving May 11 after two years with the company.

AMC Networks Acquires Majority Stake in RLJ Entertainment

AMC Networks is acquiring majority stake in RLJ Entertainment, in a deal that values Robert L. Johnson’s erstwhile home entertainment distribution company around $60 million.

AMC previously owned 26% of RLJE with Johnson – founder of B.E.T. (Black Entertainment Television) – majority holder with 47%. The pay-TV network now owns 50.1% — a position it created in 2016 when it authorized a series of loans to RLJE valued at $65 million.

At the time, the loans represented a lifeline of sorts to Johnson, who created the home entertainment distributor through the acquisition of Image Entertainment and Acorn Media Group in 2012.

With ongoing challenges in packed media distribution, RLJE put increasing emphasis on digital, underscored by Acorn TV, the British-centric SVOD platform nearly as old as Netflix.

The company then launched Urban Movie Channel, targeting the African-American market with a branded SVOD service featuring movies, TV shows, standup comedy and documentaries – not unlike what B.E.T. did in 1979.

The Baltimore, Md.-based company Feb. 25 disclosed Acorn TV and UMC now have a combined subscriber base exceeding 700,000 – up 55% from a year ago.

“RLJE’s investments in original and exclusive content, marketing, distribution, customer service and awareness are all proving successful, driving momentum in 2017 subscriber growth to culminate in the strongest month of the year in December,” Miguel Penella, CEO of RLJ Entertainment, said in a statement.

Penella, who joined the company as CEO of Acorn Media Group, said that as OTT distribution increasingly becomes consumers’ choice among viewing options, Acorn TV and UMC have firmly established their niche positions in a competitive landscape.

“We will continue to focus on strategic execution and investment as we advance toward our objective of one million Acorn TV and UMC combined subscribers within the next 12 to 18 months,” he said.