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BET.com in Talks to Acquire Russell Simmons' Venture

BET.com, the online content site launched by the parent of Black Entertainment Television earlier this year, late Monday confirmed it is in discussions to acquire Russell Simmons' 360HIPHOP.com.

The deal, if completed, would create one of the largest African-American sites on the Internet.

Under the proposed agreement, both sites will continue to exist independently. 360HIPHOP.com will continue to focus on the younger hip-hop market while BET.com will continue to serve a more mainstream audience. The terms of any potential agreement will be subject to the approval of both companies' boards.

In addition to BET Holdings, BET.com was launched by an all-star cast of media and technology powerhouses: Microsoft Corp., News Corp., USA Networks and Liberty Digital. But the site, which bills itself as the "premier African-American portal and online urban music destination," only launched in February and is hoping to capitalize on the legacy of 360HIPHOP.com's founder.

Although 360HIPHOP.com was only launched in June 2000, it has been developing its name since the early part of the year through email and viral marketing campaigns. It currently has about 40 employees. Simmons founded the venture in August 1999 following his success with the Def Jam record label and Phat Farm, the urban apparel company.

"We believe that 360HIPHOP.com is well positioned to be the leader in online urban space. By leveraging the resources of BET.com, we can assist Russell Simmons and his team in achieving their goal of becoming the dominant online hip-hop destination," said Robert Johnson, Chairman and CEO of BET.com.

And at least one industry participant believes the two companies are a good strategic fit because of the nature of the content. "Both 360HIPHOP and BET.com are about one-way communication," said Omar Wasow, executive director of BlackPlanet.com.

However Wasow believes it's still premature to declare each company a success. "I don't think either of them have proven they can produce success on the Web. It's a good fit but it's a challenge. Neither has demonstrated a successful web business model."