NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - A few years
back, when Comedy Central was run by Doug Herzog, he had a saying
about the cable channel's limited resources: "We make our own
Now that the network has been fully acquired
by Viacom, Comedy Central president and CEO Larry Divney sees
"Now we're not at the kiddie table,"
Divney said. "We can sit with the rest of the family."
With the announcement Tuesday morning that
Viacom has snapped up AOL Time Warner's half of Comedy Central
for $1.23 billion in cash, the cable network is looking to feast
on corporate synergies essential for survival in a consolidation-crazed
In a conference call with investors Tuesday,
Viacom chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone said the Comedy Central
takeover will bolster its networks business. "In cable television,
we're clearly the leaders," he said. "And we clearly intend to
Viacom plans to leave Comedy Central's basic
organizational setup intact, albeit now under the exclusive purview
of Tom Freston, president and CEO of MTV Networks. Previously,
Freston had been a member of an eight-person board, split evenly
between AOL Time Warner and Viacom executives, who oversaw the
joint venture. Divney will remain at the helm, and the network
will continue to be based in both New York and Los Angeles.
Comedy Central stands to thrive through the
resources Viacom can make available -- from savings incurred eliminating
redundancies like affiliate sales to Viacom's cross-promotional
reach across other TV brands to radio and outdoor.
"There will clearly be opportunity for
more cross-selling," said Mel Karmazin, Viacom's president and
chief operating officer, explaining that the Viacom Plus cross-media
sales unit had often not included Comedy Central in its deals
With the network intent on grooming a new generation
of hits to follow such successes as "South Park" and "The Daily
Show With Jon Stewart," Divney is eyeing doubling his development
slate, though no new budgets have been approved. He believes that
being inside the always prolific MTV camp will have its fringe
If Herb (Scannell, president of Nickelodeon,
TV Land and Spike TV) is developing a show that isn't quite right
for Spike TV, maybe it's good for us," Divney said.
Comedy Central has been the subject of takeover
rumors from the time it first began in December 1990, when Time
Warner merged its struggling Comedy Channel with Viacom's Ha!:
The TV Comedy Network. The joint ownership model was never seen
as ideal for the channel, according to Adi Kishore, a cable industry
analyst with the Yankee Group, who believes that Comedy Central
will be better situated alongside such other irreverent, young-skewing
networks as VH1 and Nickelodeon.
"I think it's a great fit," he said.
"It blends very well with the overall programming asset mix. I
think they will be able to leverage it extremely well."
Kishore sees Viacom's growing roster as a necessary
side effect to the consolidation of companies like Comcast and
"As you see consolidation on the distribution
side with cable operators coming together, you need to have a
similar consolidation on the content side, particularly in the
case of Viacom, which doesn't have distribution assets," he said.
Speculation is still swirling that Comedy Central
will be the first of several acquisitions Viacom makes, with other
cable properties like Sci Fi Channel and Court TV remaining possibilities.
MTV Networks' Freston affirmed that Viacom is hunting -- but not
for the sake of sheer size.
"We're on the lookout, beating the bushes
looking for networks for sale," he said. "That's not to say we
want to get big for bigness' sake."