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BET Holdings Founder, Liberty Want to Take Firm Private

September 12, 1997|From Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Robert L. Johnson, owner and founder of BET Holdings Inc., and his corporate partners want to take the Washington-based company private, officials said Thursday.

Johnson and Liberty Media Corp., a subsidiary of cable giant TCI Inc., are offering to buy the 6 million shares of BET they don't already own for $48 each, a 17% premium over Wednesday's closing price.

If the offer is approved, Johnson and Liberty would be the sole owners of Black Entertainment Network, an African American-oriented cable operation that reaches 50 million households, and a growing entertainment empire that includes restaurants, a pay-per-view network, a jazz channel and Emerge magazine.

"We're currently reviewing the offer, and we'll set up a special committee to take a look at it," said Debra Lee, BET's president and chief operating officer. Lee said the committee will consist of some combination of the three board members who are not parties to the offer, including actor Denzel Washington. The committee, she said, will hire bankers and lawyers to appraise the deal's terms.

Johnson did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment, and other officials did not explain the motivation for the offer.

News of the offer sent the company's shares soaring $10.50 to close at $51.50 on the New York Stock Exchange; Lee said that could mean Johnson and Liberty will need to sweeten their offer.

A spokeswoman for Denver-based Liberty said officials at the firm are enthusiastic about the offer.

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