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Weblet soap ends: Viacom’s got UPN

5-year troubled partnership with BHC over

NEW YORK — Viacom said Monday it has completed the purchase of UPN, buying the 50% of the network it didn’t own from Chris-Craft’s BHC Communications for $5 million.

Announcement marks the end of an uncomfortable five-year partnership as Viacom assumes complete operating control of the net. The entertainment conglom managed to shed Chris-Craft by triggering a “buy-sell” provision in the UPN contract that allowed either partner to offer the other a deal: Either buy out the remaining stake in UPN or sell it at a give price, in this case, a lowball $5 million.

Affil deal still possible

Chris-Craft’s lawsuit to block the ‘buy-sell” failed, as did its attempt to find a white knight to help it take on UPN. The company, essentially a TV station group, doesn’t have the deep pockets or studio resources to make a go of the money-losing — although newly hot — network on its own.

However, it’s still possible, some say, that Chris-Craft, which now owns the biggest group of UPN affiliates, could strike a deal with Viacom for its stations, which are attractively placed in major markets.

It seems likely that Viacom will be able to keep UPN even though its planned purchase of CBS Corp. would leave it owning two TV networks. That’s currently against FCC policy, but Viacom has asked the commission to relax the rule or grant it a waiver since it might be forced to shutter the weblet if it had to sell but couldn’t find a buyer.

If anyone was interested, the logic goes, that person or group would have stepped up with Chris-Craft to take advantage of the bargain basement price.

UPN execs are looking forward to a more smoothly running UPN now, without feuding parents. The co-owners had squabbled on issues from budgets (Viacom wanted to spend more, Chris-Craft didn’t) to programming.

For instance, the long-running, Paramount-produced hit “Sister, Sister,” one insider noted, found a home at rival WB after Chris-Craft turned the series away from UPN.

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