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Diller screens out Valenti crix

Exec defends InterActive cash strategy

Barry Diller called it “too bad” and “terribly unfair” that Hollywood studio heads used Jack Valenti and then left him flapping in the wind as the screener debacle exploded.

Valenti’s long tenure as head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America “has been fantastic. I think it’s too bad in the twilight of his career, he got caught. The movie companies used him to say, ‘Do this thing.’ They didn’t think it through and thought there would be no reaction, (and) he’s out there in the spotlight,” Diller said, speaking Tuesday night at Gotham’s 92nd Street Y, which sponsors a series of business lectures.

Cash rich

Diller’s e-commerce giant InterActiveCorp has been growing quickly and still has about $6 billion in cash on hand. Diller acknowledged some execs and shareholders wish the company would spend the coin on a massive deal, not hoard it with interest rates this low. But he said the funds give InterActive flexibility — and guts. “We need the confidence to fail … to be able to blow a couple of hundred of million dollars in a week. Not that we’ll be frivolous.”

The company is a novel amalgamation of e-commerce and Internet sites, some better known and more profitable than others.

InterActive has poured about $270 million into local guide CitySearch.com, “and we haven’t got a dollar for it” yet, Diller said. Other assets include Match.com, Expedia.com and LendingTree.com.

Diller said he still loves the entertainment biz and doesn’t exclude a future there. But he’s not seeking that just now. And he insists he was not interested in taking over Universal Studios. People seem to think “that I’m compelled — like some serial killer,” he joked.

GE made an extremely good deal for itself in the U acquisition, he said. “They essentially bought the company for no cash, which is quite extraordinary really.”

He added, “I told Bob Wright, ‘The only thing I want is this. I want to attend with you and your GE people the first budget meeting of Universal Pictures.’ That ought to be worth the money.”

VUE position

He didn’t comment on the status of possible talks between himself and Vivendi Universal Entertainment for unwinding his position in that company.

Diller said he generally likes TV more than movies. He’s a big fan of media regulation, and a great admirer of Rupert Murdoch. “I think Murdoch’s the best (media chief), no question. His is the only company that is impregnable forever.”

As for Gerry Levin, the former chairman of the former AOL Time Warner, “I think he should have gone to a little room where they had a calculator before they did a deal.”

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