Amid the malefic tiff between broadcast giants EchoStar Communications and Viacom [WAMN: 08-Mar-04], the latter's guileful chairman Sumner M Redstone diverted attention from the spat earlier this week, hinting to an investors' conference in Florida that the company might be shopping for a cable TV operation.

Redstone, however, made it very clear that his 'buy' list did not include EchoStar. But he did tell investors that while Viacom didn't "need distribution for defensive purposes," the time might come "where we could decide ... for the future growth of Viacom we could add more distribution, for example, cable systems." Invited later to elaborate, he replied that nothing is "happening today."

Meantime, it seems Redstone's public row with EchoStar may be little more than mutual posturing. Although nine million of the latter's subscribers on Tuesday lost access to several Viacom cable channels, and 1.6 million were deprived of CBS programs, EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen hinted yesterday that a settlement with Viacom was in sight.

He downplayed the aggressive rhetoric exchanged to date: "We are pretty close in terms of an agreement in principle." How close? "It can happen in an hour, or it can happen in a month," replied Ergen cryptically.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff