Robert Johnson: A Big Bet On Bet

BET Holdings Chairman Robert Johnson may finally succeed in taking his company private. On Mar. 16, with the help of longtime partner Liberty Media, the cable impresario who founded the Black Entertainment TV network in 1980 offered shareholders a sweetened $63 a share to take his company private--up from the $48 he first offered in September.

The deal, likely to go through this summer, will free Johnson to fund his expansion plans without worrying about the impact on earnings or the concerns of other shareholders. His goal is to leverage BET's brand recognition among African-Americans in non-cable ventures such as magazines, clothing, and financial services. And its lucrative core cable business--which Acorn Fund manager Chuck McQuaid says will generate $85 million in cash flow in fiscal 1998--is ready to foot the bill. In the future, look for some of these new businesses--such as the BET SoundStage Restaurants--to be spun off, says analyst H. Bernard Dorshow of Baltimore-based Chapman Co.

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