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Black billionaires Tyler Perry, Byron Allen and Diddy weren’t demanding reparations or special treatment when they sought majority control of BET. They simply wanted to make it Black-owned for the first time in over 20 years. So, why did Paramount suddenly withdraw its offer to sell majority stake in the company?

Like Bugs Bunny teasing Elmer Fudd, Paramount dangled a carrot and snatched it back.

Months after Paramount opened up a bidding process seeking $3 Billion for a majority stake in BET Media Group, it backtracked on that decision. On Wednesday, August 16, the company announced it was closing the bidding process.

Sources close to the company reportedly told the New York Post that “the benefits of maintaining a majority stake in BET Media Group creates more value for Paramount than any of the proposals we received.”

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Why did Paramount change its mind, really?

The company claims the proposals were less than the value of keeping majority control, but is that all there is to it? Aside from Tyler Perry, who built his career with the help of BET’s programming, no one in recent years has appeared interested in bringing major investments to the cable channel.

Did the rush of excitement after three well-known billionaires threw their hats in the ring cause Paramount to rethink how much money they could squeeze out of BET? Clearly, Paramount’s executives have decided their bottom line is more important than the cultural significance of placing a Black network back into Black-owned hands.

The decision ends an effort by Byron Allen, a media mogul, Diddy, a music producing legend and Tyler Perry, a writer-director who already runs several successful shows on BET. Perry reportedly refused to go above his offer of $2 Billion for majority stake in BET, though he currently owns a minority stake.

Despite being a temporary competitor, even Diddy acknowledged that Tyler Perry already runs much of the programming on BET.

“He’s done enough work there to dominate that. And not even only dominate — I don’t think they’ve explored what it would be like not having a Tyler. And he’s created enough content that if they didn’t sell the company to him, he could go across the street and say, ‘I’m going to start my own.,” Diddy told Vulture in June.

BET stays out of Black-owned hands

Paramount’s decision comes as a setback for not only three Black billionaires and others who sought to get in on the potential deal, but it deals a blow to millions of Black Americans who remember the days when BET was Black-owned.

In 1979, Robert Johnson and his then-wife Sheila founded BET with a $500,000 loan to provide programming catering to Black Americans. It became the first cable news channel devoted to melanin-rich viewers that was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in the 1990s.

In 2001, the pair finalized the selling of the company to Viacom, which later changed its name to Paramount, for $2.9 billion in stocks, according to Forbes, making them the first Black billionaires. Johnson stepped down as CEO in 2006.

Since then, shows focused on political news and informing the conscious of Black Americans were ultimately scrapped. Although shows like 106 & Park gave rise to a new generation of musical artists, along with the annual BET Awards.

While Perry’s years-long partnership with BET has given rise to fresh content, the company has seen a steady decline in profit and viewership. In 2014, 89.5 million people subscribed to BET. By 2022 that number had fallen to 66.3 million, according to S&P Global. The network’s annual have also taken a hit, falling from $319 million in 2013 to $188 million in 2022.

BET+ and BET News remain popular, yet with Paramount refusing to put a Black network back into Black-owned hands, the future of BET remains to be seen.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

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