Street expects revised QVC bid

Wall Street is getting antsy waiting for Barry Diller to sweeten QVC’s offer for Paramount Communications.

Arbitragers beat down the shares of QVC and pumped up the shares of Paramount in Thursday’s down market — a direct indication that they believe a revised bid is imminent. QVC lost $ 2.75 to close at $ 54 a share, while Paramount gained 12 .5 cents to close at $ 78.75.

But while some market sources said they expect a sweetened bid as early as this morning, QVC insiders said the situation remains fluid and Diller probably will not be prepared to come forward until next week.

While Diller isn’t talking, sources close to QVC said he has resumed talks with regional telephone companies including BellSouth, which last week was said to be contemplating its own bid for Paramount.

BellSouth declined to comment, but sources said the company got cold feet about going it alone and is again leaning toward joining QVC. Speculation on the size of BellSouth’s investment ran from $ 1 billion to $ 5 billion for a 50% stake of the merged entity.

The New York Times reported today that BellSouth was close to signing a deal to invest at least $ 2 billion in QVC’s bid for Paramount.

Despite the talk, it’s still unclear how rival telco Bell Atlantic — which is set to merge with QVC backer Liberty Media — would react to the involvement of another Baby Bell.

Today could be an important day for QVC even if a new offer isn’t forthcoming. If the Federal Trade Commission requires more information concerning QVC’s offer under Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust rules, it is expected to notify the company by the close of business today (it has until 6 p.m. Saturday). If QVC is not notified, it will have passed its first regulatory hurdle.

Meanwhile, Viacom held firm in its own $ 80 a share tender offer, which has already been approved by Paramount and is set to expire Nov. 22. Earlier this week the company announcedthat it had received commitments from banks for a $ 4. 5 billion loan to finance part of its bid.

Viacom’s Class A shares slipped 50 cents Thursday to close at $ 57.50; its Class B shares lost 87.5 cents to close at $ 52.

In Los Angeles, Viacom president and chief executive Frank J. Biondi Jr. was mum on the deal. At Billboard’s Music Video Conference, Biondi talked extensively about the brave new world of interactive multimedia but said next to nothing about Paramount.

He explained much of the reasoning of the new business alliances and indirectly Viacom’s rationale for acquiring Paramount. Increasingly, he said, entertainment products will be offered over more and more “platforms,” and the successful programmers will be the ones that offer products on each of them.

“The issue for all of us is how to adapt creatively so that our products can travel on the maximum number of routes into the home,” Biondi said.

He briefly mentioned Viacom’s antitrust suit against Tele-Communications Inc. , suggesting that the information superhighway needs to have more than one lane.

“We are very much for an open navigational system,” Biondi said. “We have not heard from the other cable and telephone companies that they share that vision with us.”

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