Takeover target Paramount plans to start new network 10-station venture would air in 1995

October 27, 1993|By New York Times News Service

Paramount Communications Inc. announced yesterday that it would join forces with Chris-Craft Industries Inc. to start a fifth national television network.

Though the proposed network does not appear to have a direct effect on the battle to take over Paramount now going on between Viacom Inc. and QVC Network Inc., Paramount's chairman, Martin S. Davis, said the proposed network had already been approved by Paramount's favored merger partner, Viacom.

The Paramount Network would begin in January 1995 with four hours of national programming over two nights. To start the network, Paramount is turning to one of its most successful programming franchises, "Star Trek." A new series, "Star Trek Voyager," is the first program to be scheduled.

Jessica Reif, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co., said the unusual timing of the announcement of the new network had clearly been intended to unnerve QVC Chairman Barry Diller, who is attempting a hostile takeover of Paramount, in competition with Viacom's $10 billion friendly bid.

"There is a clear message," she said. "Paramount and Viacom are proceeding along with their long-range plans."

QVC will begin its $10 billion tender offer for Paramount today. Viacom began its friendly offer, also for $10 billion, on Monday.

Chris-Craft Chairman Herbert J. Siegel is a longtime friend of Mr. Davis. So while the joint venture for a fifth network may make strong business sense, it also appears to reflect Mr. Siegel's tacit support of Mr. Davis in his battle to keep Paramount out of the hands of Mr. Diller. However, an executive close to Chris-Craft denied that was the company's intention.

Paramount intends to build the new network on the base of the four independent television stations it owns, in combination with the six independent stations owned by Chris-Craft. The new group would reach 27 percent of the television households in the country.

Paramount Television Group Chairman Kerry McCluggage said the new network would also add independent stations in other areas of country. That was the formula followed by Fox Broadcasting, which, against long odds, built a successful fourth television network starting in 1986.

But far fewer independent stations are now available to become affiliates of a fifth network. Mr. McCluggage said enough stations were available in other markets to build the network up to about 70 percent of total TV households.

"We'll add to that with superstations and cable coverage in some areas," he said. Superstations are broadcast stations like WTBS in Atlanta and WWOR in New York that are carried widely on local cable television systems.

Media analysts said yesterday that Paramount had made a wise choice to link up with Chris-Craft, which has stations in several of the country's largest cities, including New York, where it owns WWOR, and Los Angeles, where it owns KCOP.

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