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Diller dallies with content

Exec in digital return to programming biz

Former Fox topper Barry Diller is dipping a toe back into the TV waters by adding a programming unit to his Internet-and-retail conglom. Arm will commission shows for the Web and other digital platforms.

InterActiveCorp chairman-CEO Diller named former Universal Television Group chairman Michael Jackson to head the division, which will commission and develop shows as well as acquire targeted content businesses.

“It’s time for us to begin,” Diller said. “Like the Internet itself, there are no sure paths for proceeding, but Michael Jackson … is the best person to grow a multiplatform content business.”

Venture broadens the scope of InterActiveCorp, the conglom that includes search engine Ask Jeeves, shopping network HSN, Ticketmaster and Match.com, and marks a return of sorts to Hollywood for Diller, who sold off his last entertainment businesses to Vivendi Universal in 2002.

New initiatives are in the planning stages, but Jackson said IAC will look to build businesses around programming targeted to niche audiences and distributed over the Web and other digital platforms.

“This is about trying to find areas of passionate interests and genres and building business around them,” Jackson said.

IAC will not seek to build a mass distributor online, such as a Web portal like Yahoo! or AOL, nor will it buy a big player, such as News Corp.’s MySpace.

Instead, Jackson said the company will look to produce content with viral qualities, such as Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” or AOL’s Webcast of the Live 8 concert.

Analysts following IAC said entertainment production takes the company in a different direction. When asked earlier this month at an investor conference, Diller indicated he was looking for new businesses into which to expand.

“All my life I have had a good time competing with the bigger entity and having sound ways to differentiate with enough tools to get audience,” he said. “And if you get audience, you are going to get dollars.”

The rationale for getting into the entertainment biz now is that it appears broadband adoption is breaking down the stranglehold on distribution dominated by cable, satellite and broadcast television. At the same time, online advertising continues to take market share from traditional off-line media.

“A few years ago it seemed like a few big media companies had won the future, and everything was over,” Jackson said. “Now content feels like the bridge to the future, not distribution.”

Yahoo!, AOL, Google and others have become significant players in the TV market, and production companies are rushing into the emerging marketplace.

“There is not one TV company that doesn’t have its eye on all the new ways to deliver television programs,” said Lisa Sharkey, president of Al Roker Prods. “It’s coming from your phone, from your iPod — it’s the wild, wild West out there.”

Jackson, 47, first worked for Diller when he joined USA Networks in 2001 and oversaw cablers USA, Sci Fi and Trio as well as the USA television studio and USA Films.

Jackson became chairman of Universal Television Group in 2002 following the merger of USA Networks with Vivendi Universal. He ankled when Universal was acquired by NBC.

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