Viacom wins UPN
so let the digestion begin


Bold plan to bring young network into fold


   
Prompted by a federal judge, Chris Craft opted to sell its stake in the UPN network to partner Viacom for $5 million yesterday.
    Now, as Viacom takes sole possession of UPN while preparing to absorb CBS as well, all eyes turn to the FCC to see what it will do.
    Most, including the heads of all three companies, predict it will do nothing.
    The regulatory body is not expected to interfere with Viacomís play to own two broadcast networks, though such an arrangement violates FCC rules.
    Viacom has argued that if it is ordered to sell one of the networks, it may have to close UPN in the likely event that no buyer can be found.
    That argument is supported by Chris Craft Industriesí recent experience trying to find a partner to help run the network. The erstwhile half-owner unsuccessfully cast about for an investor that would allow it to operate the network without Viacomís aid. When none could be found, it grudgingly sold its stake to Viacom for $5 million.
    UPN is a somewhat unattractive property to potential investors as it has been losing around $160 million a year since it was started five years ago.
   Thereís reason to believe that will change, however, once Viacom takes control.
    For starters, UPNís ratings have been on the way up, with "WWF Smackdown" playing a big part in the increase. Moreover, Viacom is expected to try to woo the WWF into moving all its programming onto Viacom channels.
    Also, Viacom could fill out UPNís leaky schedule with programming from its own cable empire. And with CBS in hand, Viacom would have an additional fund of shows to draw on.
    Then there are the opportunities for promoting UPN on CBS and Viacomís popular cable properties, which include MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon.
    Of course, this is just the sort of maneuvering that make regulators nervous.
    But there are other reasons why the FCC will be reluctant to rule against Viacom.
    First, UPN is home to numerous minority-produced shows, in a season in which the underrepresentation of people of color on network TV has been a hot button topic. For UPN to shut down would add fuel to the controversy, and the FCC would end up taking the blame.
    Also, with the rise of cable and the internet, the broadcast networks donít hold the place of prominence they once did in the media world. For one company to own two of them no longer gives it a stranglehold over the television industry.
    Viacomís acquisition of CBS is scheduled to close next month. At that time the FCC either have to make a ruling or grant a waiver allowing Viacom to proceed until a final decision can be reached.


              
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