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Fri, 01.25.1980

Black Entertainment Television (BET) is Founded

BET Logo

*On this date in 1980, Black Entertainment Television (BET) was launched.  This is an American cable television channel targeting African American audiences.

It is owned by the Viacom CBS Domestic Media Networks unit of Viacom CBS via BET Networks. It has offices in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago and was formerly headquartered in Washington, D.C. As of February 2015, approximately 88,255,000 American households (75.8% of households with television) receive the channel.

After stepping down as a lobbyist for the cable industry, Freeport, Illinois native Robert L. Johnson decided to launch his cable television network. Johnson would soon acquire a loan for $15,000 and a $500,000 investment from media executive John Malone to start the network. Cheryl D. Miller designed the logo that would represent the network—initially broadcasting for two hours a week as a block of programming on the Madison Square Garden Sports Network (which would change its name to USA Network three months after BET launched), the network's lineup composed of music videos and reruns of popular black sitcoms. It would not be until 1983 that BET became a full-fledged entity, independent of any other channel or programming block. BET launched a news program, BET News, in 1988.

In 1991, the network became the first black-controlled TV company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Starting in the late 1990s, the network expanded with the launch of digital cable networks: what is now the general interest channel BET Her originally launched as BET on Jazz (later known as BET Jazz and BET J), created originally to showcase jazz music-related programming, especially that of black jazz musicians; in 1998, it entered into a joint venture with Starz (then-owned by John Malone's Liberty Media) to launch a multiplex service of the premium channel featuring African American-oriented movies called BET Movies: Starz! 3 (later renamed Black Starz after BET dropped out of the venture following its purchase by Viacom, then-owner of Starz rival Showtime, and now known as Starz InBlack). In 1996, the talk show BET Tonight debuted with Tavis Smiley as host; in 2001.

In 2001, the network lost its status as a black-owned business when it was bought by media conglomerate Viacom for $3 billion. In 2005, Johnson retired from the network, turning over his president and chief executive officer to former BET vice president Debra L. Lee. By 2007, the network had launched two more music-oriented networks, BET Hip-Hop and BET Gospel. BET also launched a batch of original programming by this time, and town hall-style discussion shows Hip Hop vs. America. In March 2017, the president of programming Stephen Hill and the executive vice president of original programming Zola Mashariki both stepped down. Connie Orlando, senior vice president of Specials, Music Programming, and News, was named the interim president of programming.

In July 2017, Viacom signed the new film, and television development deals with Tyler Perry following the expiration of his existing pact with Discovery Inc. in 2019. As part of this deal, Perry would produce The Oval and Sistas for BET and co-own the network's newly launched streaming service, BET+.

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