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AOL to sell Comedy Central stake

After ongoing speculation, Comedy Central's ownership limbo has finally been

Viacom Inc., which owns one-half of the cable channel, will buy out AOL Time
Warner Inc.'s 50 percent stake for $1.23 billion in cash.

The sale had been expected as AOL Time Warner attempts to pay down its
massive debt.

Comedy Central president Larry Divney is staying on.

The network will become part of Viacom's MTV Networks stable of channels, which
includes MTV: Music Television, VH1, Nickelodeon and Spike TV (formerly The New TNN).

MTVN chairman and CEO Tom Freston said that like his other successful networks,
Comedy Central will enjoy considerable autonomy.

"Comedy is extremely well established. I don't see that their day-to-day
lives will change very much," Freston said.

Comedy should benefit from cross-promotion with other MTVN services and
opportunities to team up ad sales. MTVN's leverage with cable operators could
eventually help Comedy to wrestle higher subscriber fees when its carriage
deals come due.

Under the Viacom-AOL ownership structure, Comedy functioned largely
as an independent channel. Joining Viacom could cost some jobs,
perhaps in back-office and affiliate-sales units.

Freston would not comment.

Comedy employs about 350 people.

The deal is expected to close late in the second quarter.