Frank Biondi Jr., the seasoned entertainment business executive who served tenures as the CEO of HBO, Viacom and Universal Studios, died Monday of cancer at his home in Los Angeles. He was 74.
Biondi was the consummate example of the kind of polished, Ivy League-trained business executives who rose through the ranks in the entertainment industry in the 1980s and ‘90s. He was a respected leader known as a whiz with financial data and high-level dealmaking, but he left the creative side of network and studio operations to others.
Biondi was remembered by friends and colleagues as a key player in shaping the contemporary media and entertainment industries. Robert Simonds, chairman-CEO of STX Entertainment who is married to Biondi’s daughter Anne, considered him a mentor.
Highly regarded as plain-spoken and gentlemanly, he was content to stay out of the direct spotlight for a decade while working for the larger-than-life Viacom mogul Sumner Redstone. He was famously fired by Redstone in January 1996 after a nine-year run as Viacom’s CEO — a move that helped cement Redstone’s reputation as a mercurial boss.
Biondi was immediately courted by Seagrams’ Edgar Bronfman Jr., then the new owner of Universal Studios. (Redstone tried unsuccessfully to block Biondi from joining the rival studio.) But barely two years later Biondi was ousted in a restructuring amid a slump at Universal and the arrival of Barry Diller as a business partner of Bronfman. After Universal, Biondi never returned to a major executive role.
In 1999, Biondi and several partners formed WaterView Advisors, an investment firm focused on media and technology companies. WaterView had a rocky run in its first few years following the initial dot-com collapse.
In January 2006, activist investor Carl Icahn enlisted Biondi as his choice to be CEO of Time Warner as Icahn waged a proxy fight to shake up the board and management of the company that was still reeling from the AOL merger debacle. Icahn’s proxy battle was settled a few months later.
He was much in demand as a director for public media and tech firms. In recent years, Biondi served on the boards of AMC Networks, Madison Square Garden Co. and ViaSat. His past board seats included Cablevision Systems Corporation, RealD, Hasbro, Yahoo! and Harrah’s Entertainment.
Biondi grew up in New Jersey, the son of a Bell Telephone executive. After graduating from Livingston High School in 1962, he earned a BA in psychology from Princeton University in 1966 and an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1968.
Biondi’s early career included serving as assistant treasurer from 1974 to 1978 at “Sesame Street” producer Children’s Television Workshop. He moved on to Time Inc. as a VP from 1978 to 1984. He took on additional duties as CEO of Time Inc.’s HBO in 1982. Two years later, Biondi exited Time Inc. after he was replaced as HBO CEO by Michael Fuchs. Biondi moved on to become CEO of Coca-Cola Television from 1985 to 1987, during the period when the soft drink giant owned Columbia Pictures.
In 1987, Biondi was recruited by Redstone to run Viacom, the home of MTV, Nickelodeon and other cable channels, which Redstone acquired the same year. Biondi was a key player five years later when Redstone battled Barry Diller for ownership of Paramount Pictures.
He married ABC research executive Carol Oughton in 1974. His other survivors include a daughter, Jane.