There's Snoop Vs. Axl . . . Then There's the Matter of Mo

The talk in the record industry, especially during the lucrative holiday sales season, is normally about what acts are selling.

And this week's race between Guns N' Roses and Snoop Doggy Dogg for the No. 1 spot on the album charts is certainly generating its share of speculation.

But the topic at lunch tables from the Ivy to the Palm is what's happening at the top at Warner Bros. Records.

The questions:

Is Mo Ostin, for more than two decades the most respected executive in the industry, going to step down?

And if so, who will take his place?

The interlinked questions were fueled by reports that the 66-year-old Ostin, who reportedly has a year and a half left on his contract with parent company Time Warner, is involved in renegotiation talks with the media giant--talks that could extend his contract as Warner Bros. chairman for an additional two years or more.

A key point in the negotiations is believed to involve the chain of command--whether Ostin, who formerly reported directly to the late Time Warner chief Steve Ross, must now report to Robert J. Morgado, the Warner Music Group head. There is reportedly tension between the two titans.

Even if Ostin's contract is extended, the thinking goes, it is time to clearly designate an eventual successor at the head of the company, whose domain includes Sire Records, Tommy Boy, American, Giant and Qwest. Among the artists whose future could be impacted by the decision: Madonna, Prince, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Color Me Badd, De La Soul and Tevin Campbell.

The heavy betting is on Lenny Waronker, the former record producer who has been president of Warner Bros. Records since 1983. Though some say the Ostin protege could get bypassed in the fallout if Ostin's negotiations break down, most Time Warner sources can't imagine that scenario.

Insiders say other names mentioned as possible Ostin successors--including Giants Records head Irving Azoff, the former Virgin Records team of Jeff Ayeroff and Jordan Harris, and Interscope Records co-chief Jimmy Iovine--are simply gossip.

Neither Ostin nor Morgado would comment on the negotiations. But an answer is expected soon--possibly before the end of the year.

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