In 1980, Black Entertainment Television was launched by Robert Johnson as a network in programming for African American audiences. BET is popular since it starts. Today, BET reaches 87 million U.S. homes and generates more than $100 million in annual revenue. In 2000, Viacom purchased BET, and Johnson remained in charge as president and CEO of the unit until 2005. Debra L. Lee is the successor of Johnson who had served as the COO for more than ten years. Before Lee became CEO, she had been recognized as one of the industry’s outstanding executives, becoming the first African American woman to be honored with the Distinguished Vanguard Award for leadership from the National Cable Television Association in 2003. Two years later, she had received Ebony magazine’s Madam C.J. Walker Award for “best exemplifying the entrepreneurial spirit of the black businesswoman.” Just as Lee was settling into the top spot at BET, parent company Viacom announced that it was splitting itself into two companies-CBS Corporation and a leaner Viacom, which would include BET Networks, Paramount Pictures, and MTV Networks. BET was just coming off a five-year run of 20% annual revenue growth and a year in which viewership had increased by 17%, and under the leadership of Lee, who’d come to her job with a sterling record for program development, Viacom expected BET to play a key role in the restructured company’s strategy for growth through expanded content. “The name of the game,” announced Viacom COO and co-president Tom Freston, is “how do you make programming more ambitious and substantial than what it has been in the past.” Lee had already taken her first step in moving BET forward by hiring Reginald Hudlin to fill the newly created position of president of entertainment. At a time when “original programming is a strategic priority for BET,” said Lee, Hudlin, a veteran film producer, took over programming development and acquisition for BET’s music, entertainment,...
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