There's one consistent quality in IAC/InterActiveCorp iaci CEO Barry Diller's long career, one that has made him a force in television, movies, home shopping and the Internet. He loves to challenge conventional wisdom about business — and himself.
Consider Diller's most recent and controversial pivot: After years of opposing media mergers, he's earned the wrath of pop icon Bruce Springsteen and others with an effort to create a concert colossus.
Diller, 67, wants to join the dominant ticketing and music-management company — Ticketmaster, where he's chairman — with Live Nation, the leading owner of arenas, which also now manages performers and sells tickets. The outcome is in the hands of antitrust officials.
But the effort is characteristic of a CEO who has become a celebrity in his own right after shaking up entertainment programming at ABC, reviving Paramount with blockbuster movies including Saturday Night Fever and Raiders of the Lost Ark, creating Fox Broadcasting — and then ditching Hollywood to become a retail and digital entrepreneur.
His online empire now includes such disparate properties as Citysearch, Ask.com, Expedia, The Daily Beast, CollegeHumor, Match.com and Evite. With so many properties that depend on consumer spending and advertising, the gloomy economy poses the toughest challenge yet to Diller's programming and dealmaking skills.
He shared his views about prospects for business, his companies, the Internet and traditional media with USA TODAY's David Lieberman at the 10th USA TODAY CEO Forum, in conjunction with the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis.
The interview took place in front of an audience. Edited for length and clarity, here are Diller's thoughts on:
Q: You're stockpiling cash. Are you waiting for prices to drop more before you buy something?
A: I'd like to spend it intelligently. You can't have it get hot in your pocket. Unfortunately, it's really shocking to me, but I cannot find anything that is worthwhile buying today. I hope to God I do.
Q: What kind of things are you looking at?
A: We've been in the consumer part of the Internet for a long time. But I can't find anything in the Internet area. So, what you have to do when that happens is redefine what (your) area is so you can keep growing.
Q: How about AOL?
A: Oh, that's a good question. We talk with AOL a lot, and there's a lot of common relationships there. We're, I think, the seventh- or eighth-largest Internet network, and I think AOL is one or two slots behind us. There's a really good idea for a combination there, but it's complicated to do. It's inside Time Warner, which wants to get rid of it. It's hard to engineer because of its legacy. But, industrially, it makes sense.
A: I'm sure there are some commercial applications for Twitter, but they don't really interest me. I mean, 140 characters? I am really not interested in Ashton Kutcher's daily walks. Not for me.
A: Facebook's the real deal. Nobody can buy Facebook now. Everybody has taken an angle at it. But Facebook may be the place that organizes everybody's personal information. It's got a very good chance of being that.
Q: Back in 1994 you tried to buy Paramount. With the benefit of hindsight, are you glad you lost?
A: We lost Paramount in the sense that we didn't make the last bid. And I think it was a big mistake. I wish we owned Paramount.