IAC topper discusses legal woes, strike in N.Y.

Barry Diller acknowledged Tuesday that at this time next week, he may have lost control of the company he has been building for more than a decade.

The candid acknowledgement came during a conversation with CBS topper Les Moonves hosted by Variety and Zelnick Media at Gotham’s Four Seasons Restaurant.

In response to a question from moderator Peter Bart, editor-in-chief of Variety, Diller called the pending lawsuits over his proposed breakup of InterActive Corp. “unfortunate,” readily conceding he had a lot riding on Monday’s appearance in a federal court in Delaware.

Barring a settlement, he will do legal battle with longtime associate John Malone, head of Liberty Media and a major IAC shareholder, over Diller’s decision to spin off four IAC subsids.

Noting his and Malone’s reputations, he said, “It’s very odd that two people who don’t want to give up control of anything are giving control to a judge in Delaware.” He added, “The wonderful thing about Delaware is they do it quickly. They make a decision quickly.”

Reed Business Information chief exec Tad Smith, Variety publisher Neil Stiles and Zelnick Media head Strauss Zelnick welcomed a crowd of 100-plus media and finance influencers including Carl Icahn, Harvey Weinstein, Bonnie Hammer and Ken Auletta.

The CBS and InterActive toppers didn’t agree on every point, but both critiqued the writers strike and said they do not expect an actor walkout.

Diller was withering in his attack on the writers. “It was the dumbest thing a group of people could do,” he said of the 14-week strike. “It was like they shot off a rocket and ran to where the rocket was going to land. … To tell people not to watch television because of this sideshow and the way they did it is idiotic.”

Moonves was more measured, not surprisingly, but said the Screen Actors Guild “would be suicidal” to go on strike. “The movie and television business is not exactly at the top of its game,” he said. “It’s the wrong time to say, ‘Let’s stop for our future, our supposed future.’”

Much of the session was devoted to a fairly heady consideration, with questions from the floor, about where the biz is headed overall.

After a particularly fiery speech by Diller about radically shifting distribution models, Bart told him, “The entrepreneurial spirit is still alive within you.”

Mindful of Malone, Diller half-joked, “We’ll see next week.”

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