Winning Combination?

LATE-NIGHT television comedians have now had their laughs about the prospective multibillion-dollar merger between CBS and QVC, a home shopping network. The merger of the No. 1-rated television network with a cable network that hawks clothing, small appliances, and jewelry doesn't sound like a compatible marriage. But tell that to Wall Street! Investors are expected to laugh all the way to the bank as they make a tidy bundle on the merger.

Many investment analysts believe the mix, odd as it may sound, benefits both companies. CBS chief Laurence Tisch has long wanted to step back from the day-to-day grind of television. QVC head Barry Diller has had a long, successful career in film and broadcasting. He could be expected to reach younger viewers at CBS, just as he did when he ran the Fox Network and, years earlier, when he was programming chief at ABC. CBS would also gain access to cable and international broadcasting. QVC would gain the resources of CBS's formidable talent roster plus one of television's finest network news organizations.

To what extent the proposed merger benefits viewers is another issue, and one that will have to be resolved by federal regulators as well as shareholders. The merger could still be derailed if hostile bidders emerge. Whatever happens regarding CBS and QVC, the bottom line is that once again - as has so often happened lately - one large company will be found where there used to be two.

Most of the major Hollywood studios are now part of a larger conglomerate. Mergers and takeovers have also become common among cable operators and production firms.

Wall Street analysts are already anticipating that the CBS-QVC deal will spur a new spate of mergers and takeovers within the entertainment-information sector. Mergers need not stifle creativity. Many new ``voices'' will be heard along the information superhighway, including 500-channel cable systems. Still, a CBS (or an ABC or NBC) that reaches millions of households cannot be compared to a cable operator with a relatively modest audience. Federal regulators and Congress need to take a closer look at the merger-mania under way in the entertainment-information sector.

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