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Corner Office

Media mogul Barry Diller takes on the publishing world

Kai Ryssdal Oct 2, 2012
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Barry Diller may not be a household name, but his company IAC/InterActiveCorp owns a piece of some of the hottest companies on the web.  IAC’s holdings include dating sites like Match.com and OKCupid, online reference books like Dictionary.com and Reference.com, you name it. IAC has snapped up more than 150 websites and brands and it’s making money doing it.  Last year’s gross profits hit $1.3 billion.

But Barry Diller is not your typical tech guru. He’s better known for his Hollywood successes — at the helm of Paramount Pictures, Vivendi Universal and 20th Century Fox.

Diller is a classic media mogul who’s figured out a way to make money on the web. But can he find a way to make publishing profitable? Diller’s just invested $20 million in a publishing company he’s starting with producer Scott Rudin. It’s called Brightline, and it will release e-books to start, and printed books down the road.  

So why now? “In the next 5, 10 years at the most, [publishing] is going to go through more transition than it’s had in the last 100 years,” says Diller.  “I’ve always been interested in businesses in transition and if ever there was a business in transition, it’s publishing.”

So how did someone with a background in traditional media find his way to the Internet? Diller admits he was ready to try something different when in 1992 — having spent over 20 years as a senior executive in the movie business and the television businesses — he felt “there was no longer a great thrill in opening a movie.”

Diller says he took some time off and found himself at the studios of the home-shopping network QVC.  “Screens for me have been about narratives, telling stories. Here’s a screen being used to not only tell about goods, but sell them directly to consumers. I had such a big instinct that it was the beginning of change and I was just lucky because three years later along came the Internet.”

Recently, Diller has been a vocal critic of media consolidation, even though most of IAC’s holdings are media-related. “I call us a conglomerate, absolutely. And yes we are a media company. What I was referring to is that the four major film producers and the four major television production entities are all owned by four people.” Diller explains the focus of the four major film studios have changed in recent years.  “One of the reasons I think movies kind of stink is because they’re now so low on the totem pole of greater corporate interests. It used to be… when I came to Fox, it was almost totally — it had maybe 20 percent of its revenue came from television — 80 percent came from film. Out of that, look what Fox has become — multiple cable networks, international distribution all over the world, controlling interest in BSkyB. In other words, it’s a multi-diversified company.”

With all of his media success, what advice does Diller have on risk-taking? He acknowledges that taking a risk doesn’t always pay off: “You should invest as little as you can to make go what you want to go. But I think you have to have a high tolerance for unproven investment.” 

And if doesn’t work out? Move on! “Sell it, write it off, go on to the next thing,” he says.

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