NEW YORK: Viacom Inc has announced today that it has reached an agreement with AOL Time Warner to acquire AOL's 50 per cent interest in Comedy Central, for a total of $1.225 billion.
After the transaction is completed by the second quarter of 2003, Comedy Central will be wholly owned by Viacom and will join MTV Networks' lineup of basic cable channels. Larry Divney will remain president of Comedy Central and the network will continue to be based in New York and Los Angeles, according to Viacom.
This is the first asset sale by AOL Time Warner as executives try to revive growth at the world's largest media company and to restore investor credibility by cutting its approximate $29 billion in total debt, according to Reuters. Comedy Central, which airs shows like bawdy, animated South Park and the nightly satirical newscast The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, has thrived financially for the competing media titans.
Also included in the transaction is comedycentral.com, which features original programs, schedule information, advanced technology, games, downloads and an online store. Comedy Central, which reaches 82 million US homes, was launched on April Fool's Day 1991 after Home Box Office, owned by AOL Time Warner, merged its Comedy Channel with MTV Networks' HA! comedy network, owned by Viacom.
Te network, one of the few examples of a successful media joint venture, has gained a reputation for continuing to push the limits of what can be broadcast on TV with sharp political satire and increasingly popular gross-out humour.
It has humorously covered political events and introduced original shows, such as "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and "Politically Incorrect," each of which garnered Emmy Award nominations and eventually landed on other networks.
Viacom chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone has been quoted as saying, "Expanding our interest in cable networks, one of the fastest growing and most promising areas of the media industry, remains a priority for Viacom. Bringing one of the top cable networks brands fully into our family is a significant and important transaction both financially and creatively that will bring significant benefits to Viacom and its shareholders."