Barry Diller is one of the world’s most influential and experienced media moguls. The chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp, he has run ABC, Paramount Pictures and created the Fox network.
A respected dealmaker and boardroom brawler and his friend David Geffen famously said he “has elephant balls”. He is known for his sharp tongue and ability to speak his mind and is as comfortable in a corporate showdown at IAC’s Frank Gehry-designed office as he is with his wife, designer Diane von Furstenberg, at New York fashion week or on their 300-foot yacht, Eos.
However, he is not one to sit on his laurels; the creative programmer who was responsible for the introduction of the television movie when he was at ABC, is betting that the next frontier for content is online.
To take advantage of this he is leading the charge to create original content for digital platforms and traditional broadcast networks (as well as making ad-funded content), through IAC subsidiaries CollegeHumor, Notional and Electus.
“There are very few independent companies in this field, particularly when you look at the creative destruction that the Internet is causing. Being an unaligned independent company over the next few years is an opportunity,” he says.
Diller’s IAC acquired a majority stake in CollegeHumor, the youth-skewing comedy website, in 2006 and added it to IAC Programming, a division run by former BBC One controller and Channel 4 chief executive Michael Jackson that was launched to buy and build online content properties.
CollegeHumor, which was founded by Ricky Van Veen and Josh Abramson, was best known for short-form original series including Jake and Amir and Hardly Working as well as a self-titled half-hour comedy on MTV.
“CollegeHumor had the ability to take an emerging role in making pure digital programming. That was the base and when we bought them they were making ten videos a week and now they’re making twenty, forty-minute videos and expanding the volume,” says Diller.
The success of CollegeHumor led to the launch of Notional; a production company run by Van Veen and former City Lights Media boss Dave Noll that was founded to develop male-skewing unscripted formats. Notional, which was launched in 2009, produces series including The Food Network’s successful format Chopped and dance format Ready, Set, Dance, which launched through online portal Yahoo!
However, the crown jewel in Diller’s content push was created in 2009 with the establishment of Electus, which was set up with former NBC Entertainment chief Ben Silverman, a man who, in many ways, resembles the IAC founder.
“Electus was conceived to be totally independent. It was created not to be beholden to any network owner or studio owner or distributor owner. It was also conceived to sell directly to advertisers and to combine digital as well as video. Shows like Fashion Star will sell merchandise on and off air,” says Diller.
Reality competition series Fashion Star, which is a coproduction between Electus and Magical Elves for NBC and stars Elle Macpherson, leads Electus’ latest line-up, which also includes VH1 mafia reality series Mob Wives, motoring format Car Boss and cooking format The Kitchen Musical. It also has Israeli scripted drama format Blue Natali, which is being redeveloped by Dexter writer Wendy West and Marco Polo, a period drama being developed in association with The Weinstein Company for US cable network Starz.
“Over the next few years we will be producing programming that becomes very successful,” Diller says.
The mogul started his career in the mailroom at talent agency William Morris before joining ABC and moved up the ranks of the US network. He became chairman and chief executive of Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures in 1974 developing series including Laverne & Shirley and Taxi as well as movies including Saturday Night Fever and Grease.
However, as well as creating the USA Network, a move that paved the way for the current explosion in original cable series, he is probably best known in the television industry as the man who created Fox. Working with News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch, he was responsible for creating the fourth network in the US and greenlit seminal series including Married with Children and The Simpsons, which he still loves to watch and says is “fresh as ever”.
InterActiveCorp was formed in July 2004, although the company went through several name changes, starting out as in 1995 as Silver King Communications, a subsidiary of the Diller-owned Home Shopping Network. The company operates over 50 digital brands including search engine Ask.com, dating service Match.com, online video service Vimeo and The Daily Beast, the Tina Brown run web portal that recently merged with weekly news magazine Newsweek.
But Diller’s heart has always been in programming, and he is as curious and excited about content as ever, regardless of whether the dimensions of viewing have changed.
“What’s amazing is that there’s nothing that I don’t watch by my own appointment. I don’t watch TV, I watch programmes,” he says, adding: “The best series I’ve seen in ten years is Friday Night Lights.”