Viacom Sets UPN Expansion Plans

After years of being mired in second-class "weblet" status, UPN may be stepping up to become a full-fledged network. At least that's what Viacom President and Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin implied Monday during the opening day of a weeklong media industry conference in New York hosted by Credit Suisse First Boston.

"It's very difficult for a network to expand when you're only programming five nights a week, two hours a night," Karmazin said, adding that he has "scheduled time" early next year with Leslie Moonves - who was given control over UPN along with his duties at CBS - to discuss the expansion of UPN.

Karmazin didn't specify what form that expansion would take, except to say that Viacom was considering expanding UPN's coverage beyond the prime time daypart.

The statement comes as a strong vote of confidence for UPN, which Viacom was once rumored to be considering pulling the plug on when CBS merged with Viacom in 2000.

Karmazin said Viacom was pleased at some of the success that UPN has found, particularly on Mondays and "parts of Tuesday" and Thursdays, which is wrestling night. He said UPN's programmers had done a good job of attracting a niche audience, particularly among African-American viewers. UPN programming regularly rates at the top of Nielsen ratings in African-American households.



But don't look for plans to target other niche audiences or to expand current ones. Apparently, that will not be a topic of discussion between Karmazin and Moonves when they meet to decide UPN's future.

"I don't think we want to get any more narrow than they are today," Karmazin said of UPN's focus.

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