An offshoot of Mel Karmazin’s sudden departure as pres/COO of Viacom [VIA] is that it helps clear up the murky waters surrounding who will replace 81-year- old CEO Sumner Redstone. "I would bet one of these guys will succeed me," Redstone said of MTV Nets chief Tom Freston and CBS head Les Moonves, who become co-presidents (similar to Time Warner’s [TWX] making Jeff Bewkes and Don Logan co-chmn following Bob Pittman’s departure as COO). "I’m not anxious to go, but I’m going." Karmazin’s tenure was plagued by persistent allegations of a troubled relationship with Redstone and was never considered a shoo-in for the job. Speculation is that Karmazin’s departure came as he grew more convinced he wouldn’t get it. Redstone will step down as CEO within 3 years. The board was "considering several candidates, and Mel was one of them," Redstone said Tues. "But Mel, by his decision, eliminated himself…" Investors handled the news relatively well. While shares fell to a new 15-month low of $35.91, they rallied to close at $36.81, down 1.2%. Analysts were divided, with a Merrill Lynch research note calling it a "very significant negative for Viacom as this represents the loss of an extremely talented operating executive" (though the firm kept its "Buy" rating on shares). Fulcrum’s more upbeat note was titled "Mel Who? Management Change Already Discounted." Why? Karmazin said "for personal and professional reasons, I have decided to leave Viacom and pursue other challenges." No one asked for his resignation, Redstone stressed, saying Karmazin left out of "frustration" with the company’s stock price and issues related to the struggling radio division. "My relationship with Mel has never been as high as it is right now," Redstone said. "He just decided he was better off going another way." Next? Freston is mulling the reporting structure for MTV Nets, and expects to come to a decision in the next few days. He will primarily oversee the MTV Nets, Showtime, Simon & Schuster and the movie part of the studio biz. Moonves will handle CBS, radio, outdoor advertising and the TV part of the studio. As for Karmazin, Roy Disney and Stanley Gold immediately began lobbying for him to replace Disney [DIS] chmn Michael Eisner. Karmazin will consult for Viacom for 60-days, but the no non-compete clause in his contract means he could don Mouse ears or head to another competitor.

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