Viacom thwarts criticism of BET Holdings purchase

WASHINGTON: Viacom appears to have successfully fended off criticism of its purchase of BET Holdings - which was a dollars 3 billion deal finalized last week.

WASHINGTON: Viacom appears to have successfully fended off criticism of its purchase of BET Holdings - which was a dollars 3 billion deal finalized last week.

WASHINGTON: Viacom appears to have successfully fended off criticism of its purchase of BET Holdings - which was a dollars 3 billion deal finalized last week.

Part of the praise must be directed towards Michael Lewellen. As VP of corporate communications for BET Holdings, he and colleagues from Viacom worked around the clock to assuage doubts.

Launched 20 years ago by Robert L. Johnson, Black Entertainment Television carved out a niche to provide programming aimed at the black community.

It grew from a fledgling TV station to a company that includes a 24-hour jazz station, books, pictures, Internet portal, restaurants and magazines.

BET reaches more than 62 million households. The restaurant group and magazine division - Vanguard Media - are not part of the sale.

When rumors of the purchase were flying, the black community voiced criticism and concern that one of the largest black-owned companies was now becoming just another mainstream network. There was speculation about massive layoffs, relocating headquarters and Johnson stepping down. Lewellen denied all this.

Most PR people believe the sale will be good for the black community.

Others are afraid the programming will become more mainstream and less focused on black audiences.

Pat Tobin, national presi-dent of the Black PR Society, called the sale a 'catastrophe' for the black community, but said she understood the decision from a business standpoint.

Squelching rumors was difficult, noted Lewellen, because both companies had to abide by SEC rules since Viacom is publicly traded.

Once the announcement was made, the PR teams went into top gear. Johnson called leaders in the black community to explain so they did not have to rely on press reports.

Employees had to be assured that their jobs were secure. A company-wide meeting was held to explain the acquisition and dispel false rumors, and the telephone conference with Wall Street analysts was broadcast to employees.



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