Cable acquisitions still in Viacom plans

Discovery Channel a possibility

NEW YORK — Even after gobbling up BET for $3 billion in November, Viacom president Mel Karmazin may have some appetite left for more cable acquisitions — including Liberty Media’s Discovery, the exec said at the Big Picture media conference Tuesday.

“We’d love to buy it if it was ever up for sale,” Karmazin told an audience of media heavies during an onstage interview with Salomon Smith Barney analysts Niraj Gupta and Jill Krutick.

In fact, rumors have been swirling recently that Liberty might be interested in putting Discovery on the block, but insiders said the asking price had been considered prohibitively high by potential suitors.

Karmazin was quick to point out, however, that Viacom’s current properties — including existing cable nets — were more than pulling their weight heading into the crucial upfront period this spring, when advertisers make advance ad buys for the upcoming season.

Exec said he anticipates gaining “extraordinary amounts of market share” during upfronts thanks to a ratings surge and demographic shift at marquee web CBS as well as strong performances of cable programs like professional wrestling on TNN.

Another factor that Karmazin said could help Viacom in upfronts is its strong position vis-a-vis a potential WGA strike. Reality-based hits like “Survivor” and a deep bench of cable programming, which is less union-dependent, will keep the conglom rolling, he explained.

“From a P&L point of view, we’re largely indifferent, and it could actually be good for us,” he said. “But from a longer-term prospective, we don’t want to be without quality programming.”

Karmazin also put a positive spin on reports that AOL Time Warner might bow a musicvideo channel to rival Viacom’s MTV, noting that the cable net is ready for any competition, and the marketing involved in an AOL rollout could actually be a boon to existing media.

“The only way to tell the consumer it’s there is to spend on advertising, and we’re happy to take their money,” he said.