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No. 3: Viacom

New York

Revenue: $23.4 billion

Loss: $364 million

Viacom is bigger and, execs insist, better than ever as the proud owner of CBS — the pickup of which added the Eye network and stations, massive syndication assets, and a giant radio and outdoor advertising business to Viacom’s hefty entertainment holdings.

Merged company is running smoothly as its cable networks and studio, Paramount, steam along, this despite a slowed economy that has shriveled advertising this year. Viacom, which possesses about the most ad exposure of all the big media congloms, also lowered its revenue guidance for the full year. Eternal optimist and chief operating officer Mel Karmazin sees a turnaround in the fourth quarter.

MTV, Viacom’s core engine of growth for many years, celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. MTV Networks, which includes Nickelodeon and VH1, has been joined by CBS’ channels TNN and CMT. And over the past year, Viacom moved aggressively to snap up BET, boosting distribution and revenue at the niche cable net.

UPN, which now has a sister broadcast network in CBS, snatched WWF wrestling from USA Networks and lured over “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” from the WB. At the Eye net, cultural phenom “Survivor” and its followup has helped propel ratings.

Paramount, with its stringent cost controls and revenue sharing, continues as one of the steadiest financial performers in Hollywood.

Karmazin and chairman-CEO Sumner Redstone, whose working relationship is a constant source of speculation, stress international expansion. Karmazin said in no uncertain terms last month that Viacom has cash burning a hole in its pockets and is looking for acquisitions in the company’s core businesses. He’s always looking at content, major market radio stations and TV.

Like many of its rivals, Viacom is waiting and hoping a Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission will relax or eliminate rules that limit cross-ownership of same-market media properties.

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