Looking to further expand his telecommunications reach, BET
Holdings Inc. CEO Robert Johnson last week expressed an interest in buying a piece of
United Paramount Network.
Johnson said he would be interested in purchasing a stake
in UPN if the merged Viacom Inc./CBS Corp. entity is forced to sell all or part of the
broadcast network due to Federal Communications Commission ownership regulations.
Currently, the combined entity would surpass the FCC's
35 percent cap on broadcast-population reach -- the new Viacom would have 41 percent of
But Viacom said it would do what was necessary to comply
with federal regulations, including selling off stations to minority companies. Viacom and
CBS executives have recently lobbied the FCC to increase the ownership cap or to waive the
restriction in this case.
While Johnson admitted that he hadn't approached UPN
co-owners Viacom and Chris-Craft Industries Inc. about a potential deal, he said the FCC
-- which is seeking to encourage minority telecommunications ownership -- would look
"favorably" at a BET/UPN combination.
"I think the guys over at UPN have to decide what they
want to do with the network," Johnson said. "If they decide that they want to
look at a minority ownership opportunity, then they should looking at us."
A UPN/BET union would work well in providing programming to
niche urban audiences. With shows that target African-American and urban audiences, such
as Moesha, Malcom & Eddie and Grown Ups, UPN could benefit
financially by offering reruns on BET, which is available in more than 58 million cable
"UPN has broadcasting economics, but it is generating
niche revenue," Johnson said. "They can amortize the cost against another
distribution pipeline like BET."
A potential UPN deal is the latest network and programming
move from Johnson, who has also proposed a new basic entertainment and public-affairs
channel targeted toward African-American audiences.
"We've always had an interest in as many
distribution channels as possible," he said.