Robert ‘Bob’ Johnson was born in 1946 in the state of Mississippi, USA. He attended University of Illinois in 1968 and earned a degree in social studies. He then went on to obtain a masters degree from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1972.
He moved into the television business after Princeton and he worked as a director for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and learnt about the business from the inside.
Johnson believed that there was an opportunity to provide a channel for the African-American market that had been hitherto underserved. The idea drew a number of skeptics initially and he had difficulty raising money to launch. The entertainment mogul John Malone agreed to invest in the idea and took a minority share in the venture.
The station was called Black Entertainment Television or BET and the goal was to provide quality programming aimed at the African-American market. It launched in 1980 and had a time slot of two hours each week on Fridays. The station was run within a tight budget and began to become profitable within a few years. They floated on the Stock Exchange in 1991. This floatation created an immense amount of wealth for Johnson; he bought back the company after some doubts about the valuation of the company. Then in 2000 Viacom purchased BET for $3 billion with Johnson owning over 40% of the company.
Johnson stayed on as part of the transition of the purchase in 2006 and now he is a board member of a number of prominent companies.
He speaks in detail about his journey and background to Brian Lamb
Entrepreneur: Bob Johnson
Channel: The Cable Center