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Major Shifts Spark USA, Sci-Fi Search

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NEW YORK -- New management, division mergers and increased competition led USA Networks last week to launch a review for the consolidated media buying and planning business of its USA and Sci-Fi Channel units.

The two networks combined spent $20 million-plus in 2000, according to CMR, though potential agency contenders were told the business may be worth as much as $40 million.

USA Networks last month said it will merge some of its channels -- USA, Sci-Fi and the emerging networks division -- into the USA Entertainment Group division. Sources said that seems to be spurring its desire to consolidate media buying and planning. Last week, Stephen Chao resigned as president of USA Cable. Michael Jackson, named president and CEO of USA Entertainment in July, will oversee the new group.

Ron Sato, a USA representative, said that channel has used various media agencies during the past several years, including Grey Global Group's MediaCom and Omnicom's OMD, both New York. For Sci-Fi, OMD is the incumbent buyer; sister shop TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York, does media planning. Creative for both channels is in-house.

Sato said the company is talking to the incumbents. Other agencies also have been contacted, sources said, including Tempus Group's CIA Medianetwork, WPP's MindShare and The Media Kitchen, all New York; and Palisades Media Group, Santa Monica, Calif.

Some major shops have conflicts that might bar them from the review. They include Bcom3's Starcom (which handles E! Entertainment Television and Showtime); Aegis Group's Carat (FX); and Interpublic Group's Initiative Media North America (The Disney Channel).

Adam Stotsky, a former marketing executive with the Travel Channel, is helping to manage the review.