Inside move: Malone makes play for Viv U assets

'Diller card' could aid Liberty Media in acquisition

John Malone has come clean about his intentions for Vivendi Universal Entertainment.

He wants it. All of it.

And judging from his comments May 15 at a New York investors meeting, he thinks his Liberty Media has a good shot at getting it, thanks to “the Diller card.”

The opportunistic Malone believes the leverage that he and Diller’s USAI have with Viv U may be enough to swing a good deal for all.

But for Malone, among the savviest negotiators in the business, doing the deal could be the easy part.

It’s the idea of Malone and his Denver-based braintrust of bankers actually running VUE that promptsquestion marks.

Not one to be seduced by the aphrodisiac of rubbing shoulders with movie stars, Malone certainly would be a most unusual studio buyer: one whose primary goal is to maximize shareholders’ return on equity.

But generating long-term returns with such a notoriously unpredictable business as a movie studio would be a challenge, even for the no-nonsense Malone.

Still, Malone would seem less likely to fall victim to the showbiz foibles that often ensnare unknowing corporate newbies.

Under Liberty, Universal would surely need a strong and entrepreneurial commander. And Malone has long been a patron of strong entrepreneurs like Discovery’s John Hendricks and USA Interactive’s Barry Diller.

Many have pointed to Dreamworks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg, a Diller protege, as a solid candidate to run U under Liberty.

Malone didn’t deny that talks had taken place, though he wouldn’t predict whether Katzenberg, or even DreamWorks, could be part of the VUE solution.

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