BET cashes in

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The sale of cable TV's Black Entertainment Television, one of the biggest minority-owned companies in the U.S., to publicly held media giant Viacom seems bound to stir mixed feelings in the minority business community.

BET has been a high-profile example of African-American business success. Its absorption by a media conglomerate ends its story as a minority-owned company but certifies its success at establishing the importance of the youthful African-American audience it serves. Under the umbrella of Viacom's MTV unit, BET will have access to financing and marketing synergies that can boost both its programming and its interest to advertisers.

The easy measure of BET founder Robert L. Johnson's success is the value placed on his creation by Viacom. He and his partners will share in a package worth $3 billion in Viacom stock and assumed BET debt. Mr. Johnson and BET President-Chief Operating Officer Debra Lee will stay on under management contracts with Viacom, where they will be able to continue their efforts to obtain for BET's audience the CPM parity with similar general market TV networks they have long sought -- only this time with a powerful ally in the form of Viacom at their side.

The sale of BET, along with sale or partial sale of some major minority-owned advertising agencies to agency holding groups, does not mean a looming end to minority owned media and advertising businesses. We imagine there will be more minority entrepreneurs out there with new marketing and media business ideas ready to chance failure in hopes that they might some day approach Mr. Johnson's success. When they do, they can thank BET for helping establish with marketers the benefits of media dedicated to the African-American audience.

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