As thousands of industry members are flocking to Los Angeles this week for the Grammy Awards, Viacom lit a spark in the music publishing community. The global entertainment company announced that it "has decided to explore strategic alternatives to maximize the value of Famous Music, its music publishing business." Translation: Famous is going on the auction block.

The move comes five months after Viacom's failed bid to acquire BMG Music Publishing. Viacom made the final round of Bertlesmann's invitation-only auction for its publishing unit. Vivendi's Universal Music Group snatched that publishing gem, subject to approval of the acquisition by the European Commission's competition authority.

Sources tell that while Viacom executives were working on their BMG bid, the execs had the opportunity to take a closer look at their own publishing unit, which is adminsitered by BMG outside the U.S. The €1.63 billion ($2.05 billion) price tag for BMG reportedly sparked interest in putting Famous on the block at a time when publishing assets were attracting high prices. But Viacom's Feb. 6 announcement, as phrased, leaves open the option for the company to form some type of partnership or other arrangement with a successful bidder rather than selling the company outright.

A few publishers contacted by this week say they are definitely readying themselves to bid for Famous, though they are not prepared to say so publicly just yet. Interest in acquiring Famous is expected to be high among publishers and private equity groups.

Famous was founded in 1928 by Paramount Pictures' predecessor, the Famous-Lasky Corp., to publish music from its "talking pictures." Today,its vast catalog of more than 125,000 copyrights spans seven decades and includes music from such Oscar-winning motion pictures as "The Godfather," "Forrest Gump" and "Titanic," as well as classic television shows including "Cheers," "Mission: Impossible" and the "Star Trek" franchise.

In 1992, Famous branched out to mainstream contemporary music. Songwriter/artists signed with Famous include Shakira, Akon, Eminem and Busta Rhymes. Writers and producers include Irv Gotti, 7 Aurelius, Linda Perry, Tia Sillers, Charlie Midnight and Marvin Hamlisch.

Famous is led by a senior management team that includes chairman/CEO Irwin Robinson and president/COO Ira Jaffe.

Viacom retained UBS Investment Bank to act as financial advisor to assist in the process.