BIG-IS-BAD CBS/VIACOM GRIPES SOUND FUNNY FROM MEGA-BUYERS

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With all due respect to advertising agencies and their trade association as they loudly voice concerns about the ramifications of the $36 billion CBS Corp.-Viacom merger: You have got to be kidding.

With only about three notable exceptions, every agency of any weight is owned by a mammoth holding company that also houses MediaBlob, a branded global buying Goliath. Which, according to my calculations, gives most media buyers almost no credibility on the topic of media consolidation.

One of the most vocal critics of concentration in media ownership is Jean Pool, a respected veteran of the buying wars. Last week, Ms. Pool decried the CBS-Viacom hookup and blasted CBS chief Mel Karmazin's plot to "take over the world."

That's a commendable and heartfelt stance in an industry usually drowning in watered-down commentary. And there are legitimate concerns when it comes to media companies controlling finite inventories of advertising availabilities, especially in local markets.

But credible? Her comments came just days after WPP Group, parent of Ms. Pool's employer, J. Walter Thompson USA, announced it would weld the media buying operations of JWT and Ogilvy & Mather in the U.S. under the MindShare banner.

In a news release announcing the new entity, WPP boasted that MindShare represents the "largest national broadcast buying service in the United States." The release also notes, "When it becomes operational in the United States, MindShare will be the world's largest media management and services company with annual billings of over $16 billion."

So bigger is better, but only if it's the buyers of media growing fat and not the sellers?

One benefit for holding companies in forming a MediaBlob is the ability to provide clients with better intellectual resources in a fragmented marketplace. But the real benefit is cost savings. The more billings buyers command, the more leverage they gain in media negotiations.

Media buyers do their best to beat down media prices, often treating media products as indistinguishable commodities. Then these same buyers wail in alarm when the creators and distributors of media content join together with a thought of maintaining or -- heaven forbid -- raising ad rates.

Ms. Pool makes the point that the newly merged CBS-Viacom will own both the CBS and UPN broadcast networks, which she compares to common ownership of CBS and NBC. The analogy doesn't really hold up. UPN is the weakest of the broadcast networks and, as our own annual fall pricing survey shows this week, the weblet has little clout in negotiations; it is home to eight of the 10 lowest-priced shows in prime time.

There is an argument to be made that there are benefits to advertisers in doing business with diversified media companies. Randall Rothenberg correctly points out in the column that tops this page that the concept of synergy has been discredited. But there is a difference between the media consolidation of the late '80s and these turn-of-the-century deals.

A decade ago, synergy was used to justify the merger of incompatible parts, and media companies were peddling packages advertisers weren't asking for.

Today, marketers are the ones seeking out multimedia packages and media companies are expanding their arsenals in part as a response to that.

DaimlerChrysler marketing executive Bud Liebler told Ad Age that CBS and Viacom together "can put deals together and help you reach other audiences."

His comment came in the same article filled with anguished cries from media-

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