Mel Karmazin, first lieutenant to Sumner M Redstone, the low profile chairman/ceo of US media titan Viacom, made a rare overseas excursion from his Manhattan redoubt last week.

His purpose: to cast a hawk-eye over the pickings potentially up for grabs when the British government’s new Communications Bill becomes law later this year [WAMN: 06-Jun-02]. The bill sweeps away virtually all barriers to non-EU companies acquiring mainstream British radio and TV broadcasters, and will create one of the world’s least regulated media markets.

On Karmazin’s whistlestop itinerary were Carlton Communications and Granada Media, Britain's two largest terrestrial TV broadcasters and joint-controllers of the ITV network – albeit minnows by comparison with Viacom whose US assets include broadcast networks CBS and UPN, Infinity radio stations, the MTV and Nickelodeon cable operations and Paramount Pictures.

On both sides of the Atlantic the meetings were soft-pedalled as “introductory” although Karmazin, Viacom’s president/coo, had already played his opening gambit before setting foot outside the US.

“The stocks of all these companies have run up on the basis that an American media company will buy them,” he said. But lest the wily Brits take him for an out-of-towner fresh from the boondocks: “We don't need anything out there . . . enough to overpay,” Karmazin sternly warned.

Carlton and Granada obediently toed the ‘only window-shopping’ line Said an anonymous informant present at one of Karmazin’s audiences: “He was trying to understand how the landscape has changed.”

Karmazin also made a landscape inspection at the UK’s second-largest radio operator, Capital Radio in London.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff