MediaFile

from Summit Notebook:

A Barry Diller sampler from the Reuters Global Media Summit

Interviewing IAC chief and media mogul Barry Diller nearly always means that you'll get more quotable quotes than you can stuff into one article. He didn't disappoint at this year's Reuters Global Media Summit on Wednesday. Here are thoughts from Diller on a range of subjects from mergers and acquisitions and Comcast to AOL, MGM and marriage.

Q: What are you going to do with the cash on the balance sheet? What's the focus? Are you still being cautious?

A: "I'd say we still are. It's definitely a looming problem. The only thing worse than spending cash stupidly is essentially not to put it down at all, not to do anything."

Q: What would be the right opportunity to buy something?

A: "There's no road map here. Anything of size, let's call it $1 billion plus, is known. ... Of the potential availables, nothing seems smart right now."

Q: What about AOL?

A: "Steve Case came to me ... and offered us AOL. In 1992 or 1993, Paul Allen was selling his stake, which was about 25 percent of the company. We were very fresh into buying QVC and overly cautious and missed the opportunity; opportunity since then I'm kind of glad I missed."

MGM to remain independent no longer?

What’s going to happen to MGM?

On Tuesday, the Hollywood studio announced it was replacing its chief executive Harry Sloan with a team that includes a turnaround expert. It’s a well-known fact that MGM, which is owned by private equity firms and Comcast, has struggled with a massive debt load. It has payments due on $3.7 billion of debt and the future isn’t looking too good, given the down market and shrinking DVD demand.

Media and entertainment industry analysts believe MGM won’t last much longer as an independent studio, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times:

Most industry watchers believe that MGM will not survive much longer as an independent studio and is likely to be sold to a bigger media company such as Time Warner Inc. or merged with another movie and TV studio like Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. Qualia Capital, a private investment firm headed by Amir Malin and Ken Schapiro, is actively looking at MGM, said a person with knowledge of the situation.

MGM Studio: CEO Sloan out, turnaround star Cooper in

Debt-ridden Hollywood studio MGM, whose library is home to such gems as the Rocky and James Bond flicks, has replaced CEO Harry Sloan, appointing a three person team to run the show: famed turnaround ace Stephen Cooper, motion pictures group boss Mary Parent, and CFO Bedi Singh.

Sloan is out as CEO but the veteran Hollywood businessman, who took the helm a few months after MGM’s 2005 buyout by a group of private equity and media investors,  will stay on MGM as non-executive chairman of the studio. The studio has been grappling with a massive $3.5 billion debt load stemming from its 2005 buyout by private equity and media firms.

Along with the debt load, MGM , which has not had a major film release since Tom Cruise’s ”Valkyrie”  in December, has been struggling like other Hollywood studios with  lining up fresh film financing due to the economic crunch and dropping DVD sales.

Epix nears launch date — more distribution deals coming?

Suddenly, after limited news over the past year, Epix has been very much the talk of the town in recent days. A number of publications, including Reuters, have picked up on some announcements out of the pay TV site jointly owned by Paramount, Lions Gate, and MGM.

The key bit of news, of course, was the announcement that it had reached its first distribution deal, with Verizon. Chief Executive Mark Greenberg suggested to us that other deals should be coming soon — that he is talking to everybody and “some are further along than others.”

This is key, in the eyes of Wall Street. Distribution deals are always a bit tricky, and even tougher in the current economic environment. But analysts want to see Epix sign a deal with one of the big players — one with a ton of subscribers. We’re talking about Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV. So far the reaction has been a little lukewarm from some of the big boys but that could just be a negotiating tactic.

What’s next for Lions Gate?

Last week, it had seemed like Lions Gate and Carl Icahn were heading to an amicable settlement (in other words, Icahn was close to getting his way because the independent film and television studio was leaning toward giving him a board seat or two).

But things obviously soured, because talks broke down, raising the specter of a proxy fight for control of Lions Gate.

From Icahn: “Discussions have been terminated because agreement could not be reached concerning certain aspects of the standstill agreement that Lions Gate demanded as a condition of installing those board members.:

New York Times — Profit sliding, Red Sox stake up for sale

The New York Times confirmed this morning that it’s looking to get rid of its stake in the Boston Red Sox baseball team, something previously reported by a number of news outlets.

The Times could raise at least $200 million selling its stake, analysts have said, though it should be noted that selling anything these days — even part of a first class baseball organization — is no easy task.

Check back to MediaFile for more on the sale shortly.

Meanwhile, here’s a recap of the New York Times decline in quarterly results:

Sell NBC Universal? You gotta be kidding!

NBC is once again stuck in last place in prime-time ratings; its much-hyped Olympic coverage is over, so are the elections; advertising across media is under pressure; and dishing out $67 to hang at the Universal Studios theme park probably isn’t as appealing when you could soon lose your job, house, car, etc.

Still, NBC Universal would seem more secure within parent General Electric than it has been for some time. Indeed, most of the talk about a possible sale has faded away. Here’s what analysts told us for a recent article.

“I’ve struggled with it forever, in terms of why GE has it, especially now in a situation like this where ad revenues are down,” says Mike Gandrud, senior analyst at Optique Capital Management. 
“I’d love to see them do something with it … Do I expect it to happen? No.”