Next move is Viacom’s

Paramount could spend the days after Christmas enjoying its $ 10.2 billion present from QVC Network. Or it could exchange that gift for something a little more expensive — if Viacom raises its bid.

Although Paramount signed a merger agreement with QVC Wednesday and endorsed its $ 10.2 billion tender offer, the studio could scrap the deal and go with Viacom if the cable giant makes a superior offer before QVC’s expires at midnight Jan. 7. If Par accepts a better Viacomoffer, the 10-day clock resets and QVC has the option to top it.

As of Wednesday, QVC said investors had tendered about 13.7 million shares into its offer.

So far, Viacom topper Sumner Redstone has held his offer at $ 9.7 billion and has played his cards close to the vest. But people close to the situation say Viacom could announce a new bid as early as today after spending the weekend courting investors.

So far, Viacom partners Nynex and Blockbuster have ponied up $ 1.8 billion. Their support could to grow, investment types said.

QVC’s bid, accepted Wednesday by Paramount, includes a cash offer of $ 92 a share for 51% of Paramount’s common outstanding shares with the remainder to be exchanged for a package of QVC common stock, preferred stock and warrants worth about $ 76 a share. The deal’s blended value is about $ 84 a share. Viacom’s offer is presently around $ 80 a share.

For all the hype surrounding QVC and Viacom’s three-month war waged in the boardroom, the press, the markets and the courts, traders said Wall Street showed little reaction to Wednesday’s decision because investors — almost all professionals at this point — await Viacom’s move.

“It’s really dead here,” said one dealer. “All you have left are the (arbitrageurs), and if they haven’t sold by now, they won’t. They’ll just wait and tender to the best offer.”

Paramount shares closed 88 cents lower at $ 78.75, while QVC stock slipped 25 cents to $ 40. Viacom Class A shares edged up 38 cents to $ 51.38 and Class B shares added 75 cents to $ 46.75. The U.S. stock markets were closed Friday.

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