Whoops, Barry Diller misspoke – again

September 29, 2010

Asking Barry Diller about Ask.com is not so easy.

The media mogul caused a stir on Wednesday when he said that Ask.com, the search engine owned by his Web holding company IAC/InterActive Corp, has “no value inside IAC.”

The comments, which were made onstage at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, generated a wave of blogs and tweets concluding that Diller had given up hope for the No. 4 search engine in the US, which had a modest 3.8 percent market share in August according to comScore.

TECH SUMMIT/IACNow Diller says he was misunderstood.

“I did not say that Ask has no value inside of IAC, period,” Diller clarified in a subsequent statement.

“In response to a specific question, I said that many of our assets are not ‘valued’ in the stock, and Ask is one of them…I was asked specifically if Ask would be better off with us or another company or standing alone. In the context of that question, I said that since it wasn’t valued in IAC –  like so many of our businesses, because we have so many –  that it would only be ‘valued’ stand alone.”

Lest anyone interpret the clarification to mean that Diller believes Ask would have more value as a standalone company and could thus be on its way to the auction block, another recent series of Diller statements and clarifications about Ask are worth keeping in mind.

In a conference call with Wall Street analysts in October 2009, Diller said the company was open to “consolidating transactions in the area of search” and that it was unlikely that IAC would be the consolidator — comments that were interpreted by many as a sign that the business was for sale.

But Diller told Reuters a few weeks later that he had not meant to suggest that IAC was keen for an immediate divestiture of the Ask business. In fact, he said, he had even rebuffed some suitors that had misunderstood his comments and made overtures about Ask.com.

Spinning Ask.com off on a stand-alone basis, he explained, was less interesting to him than combining it with another player in the search business.

“The people who called us were on exploration missions, on a stand-alone buy as an asset. That is different than having conversations with other people in the vineyard, in the area of search,” Diller said at the time.

So what’s the future of Ask – don’t ask Barry…

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