Chief executive officer and chairman, InterActiveCorp
Born: February 2, 1942, in San Francisco, California.
Education: Attended University of California, Los Angeles, 1961.
Family: Son of (a store owner) and Reva Addison (a receptionist); married Diane von Furstenberg (a clothing designer), 2001.
Career: William Morris Agency, 1961–1966, began in mailroom and became junior agent; American Broadcasting Company (ABC), 1966–1968, assistant to the vice president in charge of television programming; 1968–1969, executive assistant to the vice president in programming and director of feature films; 1969–1971, vice president for feature films and program development; Circle Entertainment (a division of ABC), 1971–1973, vice president (feature films, miniseries, and movies of week); ABC Entertainment, 1973–1974, vice president for prime-time TV; Paramount Pictures Corporation, 1974–1984, president and chairman of the board; Gulf & Western Entertainment and Communications Group, 1983–1984, president; Twentieth Century–Fox Film Corporation, TCF Holdings, 1984–1985, chairman and CEO; Fox, 1985–1992, chairman and CEO; QVC Network, 1992–1995, chairman and CEO; Silver King Communications, 1995–1998, chairman of board of directors and CEO; Home Shopping Network, 1996–1998, chairman of board of directors and CEO; InterActiveCorp (formerly USA Networks), 1998–, chairman and CEO; Vivendi Universal Entertainment, 2002–2003, chairman and CEO.
Address: InterActiveCorp, 152 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019–3310; http://www.iac.com.
■ As of the early 2000s Barry Charles Diller was a communications executive with InterActiveCorp, a multibrand interactive commerce company that transacted worldwide business through the Internet, television, and telephone. Diller's accomplishment was remarkable considering that his company's
chief source of income was the risky Internet. During his career Diller was credited with creating such groundbreaking television concepts as the made-for-TV movie and the miniseries and even the debut of The Simpsons on Fox Television. The mogul had made a revolutionary career of extending the traditional boundaries of the media industry. Diller saw opportunities where competitors first saw failures and later copied his work. A rebel on many occasions, Diller was quoted on AskMen.com as having said, "I've not conducted my life in the service of smallness."
Diller was exposed early to the realities of business, real estate development, and the entertainment world. The Diller families, headed by Barry's father, Michael, and his uncle, Richard, formed a home-construction business, which eventually spread into many construction and real estate development companies in and around Beverly Hills, California. Diller found formal education to be boring. After completing high school, he attended one year of college at the University of California, Los Angeles, before dropping out to enter the business world.
Like many business people who successfully climbed the corporate ladder, Diller began his career with an entry-level position. He worked in a mailroom at the William Morris Agency, a powerful Hollywood talent agency. There, Diller received the education he never got in college. He read all the contracts, memos, and correspondence that came through, in order to learn how the agency operated within the entertainment industry.
Diller was promoted to secretary and later to junior agent, in which capacity he continued to absorb job details, learning how to handle telephone calls, talk to buyers, and make deals. The message he valued was to follow through on promises and to have integrity in business dealings. During his time at the William Morris Agency, Diller developed the passion that characterized his subsequent professional career.
During a heated argument in 1966 with Leonard Goldberg, who was about to be named head of programming for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), Diller impressed Goldberg with his knowledge. At the age of twenty-four, Diller secured a job as personal assistant to Goldberg. Within a few years Diller had impressed ABC upper management with his talent and ability to obtain desired results, mostly with a style of demand, pressure, and intimidation. Diller was promoted in 1968 to the position of executive assistant to the vice president in programming and director of feature films. One year later Diller was made vice president for feature films and program development. Diller was promoted again in 1971, this time to vice president in charge of prime-time feature films and program development for Circle Entertainment (a division of ABC). His tough negotiation style worked well, and he was given an enormous amount of power. Diller quickly learned how to separate good offers from bad ones.
One of Diller's early accomplishments was the premier in the fall of 1969 of the prime-time 90-minute series ABC's Movie of the Week . Under his direction, the series—which concentrated on stories drawn from news headlines, melodramas, mysteries, and controversial issues targeted to young, urban audiences—became the most popular TV movie series. The program raised viewership at ABC and elevated Diller's status so that he controlled advertising, direction, and promotion of the project. Two of his young producers were Aaron Spelling, who eventually became a prolific television producer, and Steven Spielberg, who would go on to fame as a feature film director.
Diller discovered the miniseries concept while on a trip to England. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) had developed novels and plays into episodes that were being shown on television over three or more nights. Realizing that it was less expensive to produce one eight-hour miniseries than eight one-hour programs, Diller elaborated the concept. He soon was producing such miniseries as QB VII (by Leon Uris), Roots (by Alex Haley), and Rich Man, Poor Man (by Irwin Shaw).
In October 1974 Diller was hired by Charles Bluhdorn to run and revitalize Paramount Pictures, a division of Gulf & Western Industries. Diller became chairman in 1975. For ten years, under the direction of Diller, Paramount produced such blockbuster films as Saturday Night Fever (1978), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), 48 Hours (1982), and Terms of Endearment (1983), along with television series, including Taxi and Cheers . Having become a force in Hollywood, Diller saved Paramount from financial disaster by cutting costs and raising income with better promoting and merchandising of movies. He also revolutionized the method that studios used to acquire scripts, by forcing executives to find good movie projects rather than waiting for scripts to be offered to them. But in 1984 Diller quit Paramount after a continuing bitter conflict with the company's new leader, Martin S. Davis.
Almost immediately, oil magnate Marvin Davis hired Diller to revive his financially ailing movie studio, Twentieth Century–Fox Corporation (TCF). Diller turned around the nearly bankrupt motion-picture division of TCF with brutal cost-cutting measures. Later, he was placed in charge of developing the studio's new TV network, Fox Broadcasting Company, which Davis hoped to turn into the fourth major U.S. television network. Most experts predicted its demise, believing that only three networks were needed. However, Diller ignored such dire predictions while working with the Australian media entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch, who had bought Fox in 1984 after seeing signs of life in the company with Diller at the helm.
With only a limited number of programs on the schedule, Diller knew that he had to develop other programs quickly, so that the fledgling Fox network could compete against the established networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Needing bigname stars to give validation to the new network, Diller persuaded Joan Rivers to leave her permanent guest-hosting job with The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson . Diller's first program was The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers , which debuted in 1986 but was canceled after several months because of conflicts between Rivers and Diller.
In 1987, working under the premise of less bureaucracy and more creativity, Diller introduced a limited prime-time television schedule on weekends with such series as Married with Children . After two years of operation, Fox had monetary losses of $136 million. During this time, however, Diller acquired more than 100 affiliate stations and developed a rapidly growing audience of 18- to 34-year-old viewers. Fox first earned a profit in 1990, the same year that The Simpsons , an animated situation comedy that became extremely successful, premiered. Diller's instincts did not fail him as he continued to concentrate on providing low-cost "reality" shows, such as Cops and American's Most Wanted , and offbeat shows, such as In Living Color, The Tracey Ullman Show , and 21 Jump Street . Diller had his failures, too. At the end of 1987 The North Wilton Report debuted, receiving disastrous criticism from the media while being almost completely ignored by viewers.
Under Diller's guidance, Fox developed the successful scheduling strategy of debuting new programs in August, when the other networks traditionally programmed reruns. Diller also created an atmosphere of conflict and confrontation, business manipulations, and power struggles. George Mair, a person who regularly interacted with Diller and who later wrote a biography of Diller, summed him up with this comment: "Barry's very willful, very success-oriented. I think that in pursuit of his goals he was very wasteful on a human scale. He cared not for the body count that he created in his wake" (Mair, p. 189).
Diller left Fox in April 1992. After working constantly since the age of nineteen, he decided to buy an Apple PowerBook laptop computer and learn how to use it. He was amazed by how it stimulated his imagination and caused him to think in a new way about network and cable television programming, interactivity, and information services. Diller set off across the United States on what he called his "odyssey," to talk with the big names in computer technology, such as Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple. During this time, Diller and his friend Diane Von Furstenberg traveled to West Chester, Pennsylvania, to visit the headquarters of the QVC Shopping Network. Diller was impressed with the mostly automated and effective sales operations of the company.
Through his company Arrow Investments, Diller bought into a partnership with QVC in 1993, to use it as a springboard for future investments. According to Mair, where critics saw an "electronic flea market selling jewelry and beanbag chairs," Diller saw a "money machine, and a place from which he could control his own destiny" (p. 231). Diller proceeded to buy other broadcasting properties and serve as their chief executive. After failing to succeed in merging QVC with CBS in 1994, Diller brokered a successful deal with Comcast and then left QVC about $100 million richer.
Then, in 1995, Diller purchased Silver King Communications, acquired Savoy Pictures Entertainment, and gained controlling interest over the media company USA Interactive, which owned the Home Shopping Network (HSN) and Ticketmaster Online. He transformed the company into the interactive commerce company InterActiveCorp. Diller expanded the company to include not only home shopping but also a variety of successful companies that dealt with interactive business on the Internet, such as Expedia, Hotels.com, Match.com, and Ticketmaster Online-Citysearch. He also oversaw more traditional enterprises, such as USA Networks (which included such television properties as the USA Network, the Sci-Fi Channel, and HSN), and numerous local television stations. Diller also bought controlling interest in the Internet portal Lycos as a way to turn the site into an outlet for the direct marketing of his own ventures. The travel sites Expedia.com and Hotels.com were models for Diller's strategy for revolutionizing the online travel-agency business. Because of their dominant positions, they were able to demand wholesale prices, which they resold for a 25–30 percent markup, rather than the traditional 10 percent commission.
In 2003 Diller bought LendingTree, a top online mortgage intermediary. With Internet mortgage companies possessing only 5–7 percent of the total consumer lending market and with LendingTree having less than 1 percent of that market, Diller expected to grab more market share with his new acquisition by using the company's cost-effective strategy to attract potential consumers and to present them with a variety of qualified lenders from which to choose their final loan. Diller used his tried-and-true techniques at Expedia.com and Hotel.com to expand LendingTree. He discovered that LendingTree actually rejected many lenders that applied for admission because the demand was so high and its screening requirements so strict. Diller expected a 70-percent annual earnings growth rate at least until 2007.
Diller was often praised for his ability to choose winning projects and reject losing propositions at the same time that he was sometimes criticized for his direct, aggressive management style. According to Mair, Diller acknowledged being a difficult person: "I think difficult is good, especially if you're dealing with the 'creative process,' in which you have to make editorial choices…. All you really have to contribute is what you think. There is no rightness involved, only being true to oneself" (p. 7).
As CEO of InterActiveCorp, Diller continued to work to maintain the company's low-debt-to-high-cash ratio and continued to acquire functioning companies with sound business plans that were already on or ready to move onto the Internet. Diller's goal for the business was for it to become the world's largest and most profitable interactive commerce company by pursuing a multibrand growth strategy through its operating businesses. With a 2002 market value of around $12.5 billion, InterActiveCorp was a distant second to Ebay's $22 billion but above the figures for Yahoo! and Amazon, at $10 billion and $8 billion, respectively. In the early 2000s Diller commanded 26,000 employees in 26 nations around the world.
Even though he possessed a soft-spoken voice and kindly physical features, Diller earned a reputation as a tough negotiator and an imposing, highly motivated presence. He parlayed his perfectionist nature, abrasive temper, and often emotionally abusive personality into a business empire.
See also entry on USA Interactive, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories .
"Barry Diller," http://www.askmen.com/men/business_politics_60/65c_barry_diller.html .
Block, Alex Ben, Outfoxed: Marvin Davis, Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch, and the Inside Story of America's Fourth Television Network , New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.
Mair, George, The Barry Diller Story: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Entertainment Mogul , New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1997.
—William Arthur Atkins