MediaFile

Malone, Diller and the story that ended the affair

maffei-sun-valley.jpgMedia titans John Malone and Barry Diller knew they had their fair share of disagreements over the years, but like many couples heading to divorce, they apparently needed someone else to tell them that.

Enter Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Vascellaro.

The media industry read with rapt interest her story in October that put in plain language how much tension had built up between the two over their partnership in IAC/InterActiveCorp. 

But as the two moguls duke it out in Delaware court this week, they keep invoking that story, day after day, as the moment that sent their relationship past the point of no return. 

Diller apparently understood the story as grounds to endorse a control structure for a spin-off of IAC businesses that would dilute the grip of Malone’s Liberty Media over the units. And that is what brought them to court today.
 
“It was kind of a verification in his mind they had gone over a significant line and the possibility of doing a transaction beneficial to both sides was becoming highly unlikely,” IAC Vice Chairman Victor Kaufman said when asked by Liberty’s lawyers.
 
IAC’s lawyers made liberal use of the story as well, asking Liberty CEO Greg Maffei whether he orchestrated the original interviews with himself and a usually press-shy Malone to send a message to Diller. They asked Maffei whether he tried to influence that story by flying the New York-based reporter out to Denver and talking up his views of Diller over several hours of travel time.
 
Maffei rebuffed that idea, saying  he didn’t come up with the idea for the flight, that there were other people on the plane and most of the time they spent playing the card game “Oh, Heck”:
 
[We asked Dow Jones about the flight. Here's their statement: "The Wall Street Journal attempted to reimburse Liberty for the flight, but the company subsequently returned the check. In keeping with our guidelines, we still intend to reimburse Liberty. We stand by the fairness and accuracy of our story."]
 
After it appeared, Malone said he had already guessed Diller’s reaction:
“I thought Barry’s not going to like this when he sees it. (Did you call Diller?) I should have but I did not. Because when I read it, it came across not the way I would have liked it to come across. 
    
In the end I did call. It was roughly two months later. (Apparently Diller told Malone of his one share, one vote plan during that call)”

(Photo: Reuters / Maffei in Sun Valley 2007)

Did Greg get between John and Barry?

malone-arrives.jpgJohn Malone is famous in the media industry for his complex deal-making skills that have confounded some of the best minds in business. But he seemed almost forlorn in Delaware court today when talking about the unraveling of his relationship with Barry Diller, the former television and film honcho who built up IAC/InterActiveCorp with his backing.About halfway through a rigorous cross examination by Marc Wolinsky, who was representing IAC, Malone’s responses gave us the impression that his lieutenant and CEO Greg Maffei had a hand in precipitating a difficult business dispute into all-out war. Here are some chapter headings from his direct testimony and cross-examination:The tension dates years back to Maffei’s role in Expedia’s sale to IAC. When Maffei was appointed CEO of Liberty Media in 2005, Malone said Diller branded it a “poor choice.”“I knew there was a history. I knew that Barry was complaining that there was no cooperation between Expedia and Hotels.com … he thought that was wrong. I’m not sure I was aware of any personality difference until much later.”By 2006, Maffei was making comments that questioned the solidity of Diller’s control over IAC, under a proxy agreement to vote Liberty shares. Barry had some feelings about that.“Mr Diller was very unhappy or upset that Mr Maffei would make these … claims or references, anything that would undermine his confidence that he had the voting power.”When Maffei and Liberty counsel suggested a way to weaken Diller’s proxy, Malone said he objected.“I told them that I regarded it as brain damage. (So what did you do when Maffei persisted in his argument?) I would assume that he has something in mind in terms of it being a viable legal argument, or because our lawyers are telling him they believe it’s a valuable and appropriate legal position.”By late 2007, Maffei took a more aggressive stance when it came to pushing Diller to compensate Liberty for the declining value of its IAC stake, Malone said.“I would say Mr Maffei believed it was in the interest of Liberty to try and separate our interests from IAC and Expedia. I think Mr Maffei can be pugilistic where these issues are concerned.”Because at the end of the day, Malone would be happy to make up with good ol’ Barry. Asked if he preferred to litigate their dispute in Colorado rather than Delaware, he said:“I didn’t want to have to sue Mr. Diller anywhere. I still hold him no ill-will and I still seek a win-win solution for our disputes. I don’t think any of us likes that we are having an open dispute after 13, 14 years of building value together.”Cue one Denver sunset please.(Photo: Reuters/John Randolph/ Liberty Media Corporation Chairman John Malone returns to Chancery court in Wilmington Delaware)

Diller, Malone: Battle of the moguls kick off

bulls.jpgIts a (media) heavyweight battle: IAC’s Barry Diller vs Liberty Media’s John Malone.Not since former Disney chief Michael Eisner and one-time Hollywood super agent Michael Ovitz squared off has the media industry seen as contentious a battle as the one we’re about to witness in Delaware on Monday as Diller and Malone fight in court over control.Long-time business partners are dueling over Diller’s move to break up the company in a plan that would eliminate IAC’s dual class share structure, which gives Malone’s Liberty some 62 percent of the company’s voting power. Under a longstanding agreement, Diller has been able to vote Liberty’s stake. Liberty now says IAC has breached that agreement by going against Liberty’s wishes.PaidContent posted a copy of Diller’s pre-battle message to troops.Eleventh-hour settlement hopes ahead of the trial have largely been dashed. Although there is still about a hour to go before the trial starts. Citing unnamed sources, NY Post says these talks are likely to continue through the week.Let the games begin.(Reuters)Keep an eye on:

    The hair-twirling, the fidgeting, the interjections. BusinessWeek columnist Sarah Lacy learns how not to do an interview with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, when the crowd at South by Southwest Interactive turns on her. (News.com) Top six U.S. cable operators aim to spend $150 million to create a jointly owned company to court advertisers on a national scale. (NYTimes) Facebook, en Francais. (Reuters) MySpace’s talks with music industry heats up, considers launching service without Universal Music Group. (FT)

(Photo: Reuters)