Freston, Warners in talks

Tom Freston, chairman-CEO of MTV Networks, is in exploratory talks to take a senior level exec post at Warner Music Group, according to sources. But Freston’s lucrative, multiyear pact with Viacom may be ironclad and escape-proof.

Sources said the talks, though in very preliminary stages, may not advance if Freston is unable to extricate himself from his pact, which includes a multimillion-dollar annual salary, hefty performance bonuses and stock options.

Freston has hired a battery of attorneys to pour over his deal to find a clause that would permit a graceful exit.

Freston has also apparently tested the exit waters, and Viacom chief Sumner Redstone has responded by telling Freston he is not inclined to let him go.

Sources said a new challenge and a desire to spend more time on the West Coast are among the factors precipitating Freston’s pursuit of the move. He’s been chairman-CEO of MTV Networks, the umbrella for MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon, since 1989 and has helped reinvent the cabler several times.

WMG and MTV execs deny any deal is in the works.

Landing Freston would be a coup for the conglom as Freston’s links to the entertainment industry’s titans, dealmakers and artists are strong and extensive. His solid reputation and business acumen are also frequently cited.

The nod to Freston may even give rise to speculation that the music conglom is again toying with launching a music video channel, an idea which was in the embryonic stages under then-Warner Music Group chairman Robert Morgado before it was scuttled amid controversy in 1994. Morgado pulled the plug on the venture just months before being ousted from WMG.

Although the new post is not expected to alter the reporting structure of the music group, where the heads of the Warner family record labels and related outfits report directly to chairmen/co-CEOs Bob Daly and Terry Semel, it is among several changes the music group chiefs have planned for the conglom.

The recent addition of David Foster to the senior veep post was the first of a trio of such appointments. However, Freston is being looked at for a much wider role within the music conglom than the Grammy-winning producer.

Freston, who was among the original team that started MTV, has risen through the cabler’s ranks and even directed some of MTV’s earlier TV spots. including the memorable “I Want My MTV” campaign.

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