Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes

: I’ve mentioned a few times that Howard Stern might leave Viacom early. The other day, I said he’s making noises about this. The New York Post reported yesterday that there are rumblings. The Wall Street Journal today gives the backstory:

The issue is that Viacom has withdrawn its financial support from Mr. Stern’s legal fight against Clear Channel Communication Inc., which dropped his show earlier this year after the Federal Communications Commission began a crackdown on indecent broadcasts….

Mr. Stern is negotiating to get out of his contract with Infinity so he can join Sirius earlier than the 2006 date currently planned. Mr. Stern announced his planned move to Sirius last month, live on his show. Sirius likely would have to pay a steep price to land Mr. Stern early; he brings in some $80 million annually in advertising revenue and $50 million annually in cash flow to Infinity, according to people familiar with the matter….

At the end of June, Infinity and Mr. Stern filed a $10 million breach-of-contract suit against Clear Channel for dropping Mr. Stern’s show earlier in the year. In July, Clear Channel countersued for $3 million, alleging Mr. Stern broke his contract with the company by not conforming to federal decency standards.

Everybody’s playing a game of Hollywood chicken. My bet is that we’ll hear Stern on Sirius by spring: The longer this goes on, the less Sirius has to pay to buy him out; the more he will be irritating Viacom; the more eager Viacom will be to replace him with whatever’s next (once they figure that out); the more eager Stern will be to just get out; the more Sirius will want to start getting in new customers with Stern. Meanwhile, though, it would be a damned crime if Clear Channel is allowed to slink away in the night.