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News
BET interested in UPN
September 23, 1999: 4:38 p.m. ET

Cable station likes synergy between the two networks; would purchase stake
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Viacom Inc. isn't exactly soliciting offers for its UPN television network, but BET Holdings Inc. is sending out a beacon of interest, just in case.
     Robert Johnson, the chairman and chief executive officer of Washington, D.C.-based holding company for the Black Entertainment Television Cable Network, said Thursday he is interested in purchasing a significant stake in the fledging network.
     Johnson called the potential deal "very attractive" because of the numerous cross-promotional opportunities between the urban-focused UPN and his cable network, which reaches more than 55 million households nationwide.
     That would include the sharing of shows, costs and advertising revenues.
     "What intrigues me about it is if you really want to create a dominant urban network that really stresses diversity, you combine a cable station like BET with a network television station focusing on urban markets like UPN," Johnson said. "It would be a very attractive venture."
    
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UPN's popular 'Moesha' is just one example of a program Johnson feels could transfer easily to BET.

     Despite his enthusiasm for such a deal, Johnson said he has not approached Viacom chairman and majority stockholder Sumner M. Redstone with a definite proposal, nor does he intend to.
     Instead, Johnson hopes by making his interest public, Viacom will keep him in mind should it start looking for a partner -- or is forced to by law.
    
Federal regulators to determine UPN's fate

     Federal regulators soon will begin scrutinizing Viacom's recent $36 billion bid for CBS Corp., which would create the nation's second-largest media concern.
     Many analysts predict Viacom ultimately will have to sell off all or part of its UPN holdings, which includes 19 television stations and reaches 26 percent of all U.S. households. That is because the combination of Viacom's and CBS's television holdings would reach 41 percent of all U.S. households nationwide -- six percentage points above the current national cap.
     Viacom and CBS executives already have pitched their case to eliminate that cap to Federal Communications Commission members in Washington. Other large networks recently made a similar plea.
     Either way, Johnson said a joint venture deal with his organization ultimately could help Viacom's case with the FCC, which also is pushing networks to reach out more to minorities, both on a corporate and broadcasting level.
     "If the commission wants to encourage minority participation, you might make a stronger case by [to remove the cap] if you align yourself with a company like ours," Johnson said.
     Viacom spokeswoman Sally Duffy declined to comment on Johnson's interest, saying "it's not something we're going to comment on."
     Viacom (VIA) closed up 1 /2 to 45-1/4 Thursday while CBS (CBS) up 1/8 to 48-1/2. BET Holdings is privately held by Johnson and Liberty Media.Back to top

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