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Viacom's BET acquires 'Soul Train' franchise

Viacom's BET acquires 'Soul Train' franchise
Viacom's BET has acquired the "Soul Train" franchise, which includes 1,100 episodes of the classic dance and music show. Pictured is a book on "Soul Train" by Don Cornelius, right. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Viacom's BET Networks has acquired the "Soul Train" franchise, which includes a popular award show and a wealth of videos and photos dating back to the groundbreaking music and dance show's origins in the 1970s.

BET acquired the business from Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. and InterMedia Partners.

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Financial details were not disclosed.

BET has televised the "Soul Train Awards" since 2009.  In addition, the "Soul Train" library features performances by African American musicians, comedians and other celebrities who appeared on the weekly program.

There are more than 1,100 episodes of the classic "Soul Train" series and 40 television specials, including the "Soul Train Awards," which launched in 1987, and "Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards,"  among others.

Over the years, the program showcased such talent as Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, Sly and the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Prince, Donna Summer, David Bowie, and Alicia Keys.

"We are very excited about the brand's library," Richard Gay, executive vice president for operations and strategy at BET Networks, said in an interview with the Times.

"Clip licensing has become a robust business, and these are some of the most unique and rare clips around," Gay said.

But the value of the property extends well beyond old clips from the TV show. BET executives believe there are ways to refresh the brand with new content that resonates with younger audiences, including the possibility of a new television show.

"'Soul Train' means cool ... cool R&B music," Gay said.

The acquisition comes as media company Viacom has been looking to bulk up its ownership of content to increase revenue through program distribution, consumer products and other licensing opportunities. Viacom also owns MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central.

For example, producer Matthew Weaver has been developing a Broadway show based on the "Soul Train" variety show. Weaver also produced "Rock of Ages."

Once a mainstay on Saturday mornings, "Soul Train" introduced legions of TV viewers to African American culture.  In 1970, radio entrepreneur Don Cornelius spent $400 of his own money to launch the dance show on a local Chicago TV station.

The program soon moved to Los Angeles and was syndicated nationally.

Cornelius, who died in 2012, served as the host and executive producer of the program for two decades, welcoming viewers to "the hippest trip in America."

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"'Soul Train' was a pop culture destination before there was even the term pop culture," Gay said. "The 'Soul Train' brand means something to everyone from a grandmother to my 16-year-old son."

The "Soul Train" show ended production in 2006.

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