Black Entertainment Television Holdings, Inc. (BET Holdings) was founded in 1979 by former cable industry lobbyist Robert Johnson. The company's primary business is its 24-hour cable channel, Black Entertainment Television Cable Network (BET). The BET Cable Network has an estimated 45 million subscribers nationwide and its predominantly black viewing audience has transformed this once struggling company into a powerful social and economic force in the media industry.
BET began by broadcasting music videos in 1980 and 11 years later became the first black-controlled company listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Since then BET has diversified its holdings by moving into the publishing industry. The company publishes several magazines targeting black readers, including Emerge, BET Weekend, and Heart & Soul. The company has also acquired three other cable channels, including a cable jazz channel (BET on Jazz) and the BET Movies/Starz!3 channel. In 1994 BET established a radio network to provide news and information to radio stations located in urban markets around the country.
Two years later the company formed a partnership with Microsoft to form MSBET, an online service that offers up-to-date information on concerts, entertainers, movies, and cable programming. BET has continued to expand its cable television programming by offering a public affairs show, a weekly show for teenagers, and broadcasts of town hall meetings that address contemporary issues facing the African American community.
Last year BET launched Rap-It-Up, its US-wide awareness campaign on HIV/AIDS in the African American community that has already been recognised by four industry awards. It includes programming, PSAs, celebrity spokespersons, event sponsorship, promotion of community based health organisations for VCT and referral, website, telephone hotline, road tour, high school visits ('Teen Forums') and the Cable in the Classroom Rap-It-Up School Curriculum.