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Seagram, Viacom can’t agree on USA

NEW YORK — Universal Studios’ parent, Seagram Co., and Viacom haven’t reached agreement on a plan to restructure ownership of their jointly owned USA Network nearly a month after a Delaware court ordered them to do so, Universal CEO Frank Biondi said Thursday.

With a 30-day clock set to expire Monday, following the court’s May 15 ruling, Biondi told reporters Thursday that “we don’t have a joint proposal” with Viacom, saying there are “15 days left” for each side to come up with its own plan or a new joint proposal.

A Viacom spokesman declined comment, but both companies on Monday are expected to submit an update to the Delaware Chancery Court judge and will then have until July 1 to resolve the ownership issue.

Capping a yearlong, closely watched case, the court last month ruled in favor of Seagram, saying Viacom violated its partnership agreement by continuing to operate MTV Networks following its 1994 buyout of Paramount Communications, USA’s former owner. The court gave both sides a month to come up with a joint plan to dissolve the ownership and said the companies could have 15 extra days to formulate individual proposals if a joint solution couldn’t be reached.

As expected, Universal is keen to buy Viacom out. Biondi said Thursday “we’d prefer to be the buyer” of USA. Biondi downplayed the importance of price as an issue, although price is sure to be affected by News Corp.’s high-priced acquisition of Family Channel’s parent, Intl. Family Entertainment, analysts said.

Viacom is sure to ask at least $1.7 billion for its 50% stake — the price Viacom agreed to pay for Universal’s stake in unsuccessful negotiations to settle the dispute before last year’s trial.

While some sources suggested the feud is again headed to court, Biondi said only that “a lot could happen” in the next 15 days, adding, “It’s not in my interest to try to handicap the outcome one way or another.”

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