Viva wary of Viacom takeover

Staff frustrated over delay, plan demonstrations

BERLIN — Viacom’s E310 million ($412 million) takeover of MTV’s local German rival Viva is proving painful.

The conglom’s goal of ending a decade-old standoff by taking over MTV’s competitor has angered Viva employees.

Simon Guild, deputy chief exec of MTV Networks Europe, blames a delay in the completion of Viva’s takeover for the problem, saying Viacom can’t reveal plans for Viva until the deal is finalized in January.

“We understand their frustration and we do owe it to the employees to explain our plans and address their concerns,” he says.

Guild hopes to allay concerns by pointing to its acquisition in Holland of Music Factory in 2001, which after initial job cuts, now has 20% more employees than when it was acquired.

Nevertheless, Thomas Diekmann, head of Viva’s employee body, is expecting the loss of most of the 280 positions (including 90 freelancers and interns), something Guild says won’t happen.

“We will be operating four music channels here and we’ll need most of the people to remain,” he adds.

Guild denies speculation that Viacom will unplug one or two of the music channels, insisting, “Viva is an important brand with a built-in audience and we will keep it alongside MTV. And if Viva ends up bigger than MTV, that’s fine.”

Although MTV and Viva’s programming has become similar in recent years, Viva has retained a loyal fan base. It helped establish popular local bands like Die Fantastischen Vier and celebrities like actress Heike Makatsch.

Yet the hubbub is turning Viacom’s acquisition into a PR headache: Viva employees are planning demonstrations through the streets of Cologne.

In addition, the North Rhine-Westphalia media authority (LfM) has warned Viacom that it would not look favorably on a revamp of the Viva channels. The NRW state government has reminded the U.S. media giant of informal assurances it received that Viva would remain in Cologne and not move to MTV’s Berlin headquarters.

Although Viva has begun canceling some shows, Guild dismisses fears that MTV would do away with successful Viva skeins. MTV says it plans to harmonize the channels to give each as distinctive a profile as possible.

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