Media

Media mogul Barry Diller checks out of IAC (though he's still on staff)

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Media titan Barry Diller said he is stepping down as CEO of media conglomerate InterActive Corp today.

This has been a long time coming. Diller initially made his name buying and selling properties, frequently reshaping his company’s focus, from movies and TV to e-commerce to search. But more recently, he appeared to lose his touch, with critics questioning his leadership: His moves in the acquisition market raised a number of questions about his ability to generate value from IAC’s assets.

With trends of consolidation in the industry, it’s been important for conglomerates to become big enough to compete against the leading players, but IAC failed in some crucial areas, including in search and social gaming.

In related news, one of IAC’s largest shareholders is also checking out of the company: Liberty Media has dumped its stake in IAC for $220 million, including its separate ownership stakes of of IAC properties Gifts.com and Evite. Liberty Media chairman John Malone and Diller have often clashed: In one big standoff, Malone at one point failed in an attempt to stop Diller from spinning off most non-Internet brands from IAC.

Diller is responsible for IAC’s acquisition of Ask.com, which was once a competitor for Google but faded into obscurity. Ask.com announced that it would no longer work on search technology and will instead license search results from one of its rivals, after Diller said the company had no value within IAC.

Yet another component of IAC — 3D Web-gaming site InstantAction — folded recently after receiving a majority investment from IAC in 2007. The InstantAction debacle is even more baffling, now that browser-based games are seeing explosive growth. Zynga, one of the largest producers of web browser games, is one of the fastest growing enterprises in history and is now valued as much as Electronic Arts — one of the largest game publishers in the world — after launching only three years ago. Most other browser-based game companies — like Playdom, Playfish and Kongregate — are seeing pretty sizable exits too.

Diller’s last attempt at acquiring some kind of value for IAC was to duct tape together its news publication The Daily Beast with the floundering news magazine Newsweek. But The Washington Post offloaded the magazine and its debt to Sidney Harman for a whopping $1. Assuming it hasn’t ballooned in value since then, that doesn’t say much about Diller’s estimate for the Daily Beast’s worth.

Over time, his company has repeatedly changed its name and focus. But after splitting up the company through a series of spinoffs in 2007, a smaller IAC has concentrated on online media and advertising properties. Largely as a result of IAC’s spinoffs, Diller is on the board of directors of five companies — like travel site Expedia — including IAC. He announced earlier this year that he will resign as the chairman of live event hosting company Live Nation’s board of directors by the end of the year, which merged with former IAC property Ticketmaster earlier this year.

Diller is going to remain the chairman and senior executive of the media corporation, and Greg Blatt, CEO of dating site Match.com will take over the company as CEO. It isn’t clear whether Blatt will continue Diller’s strategy of heavy acquisition. But all that time working on Match.com might give him a better idea of what companies would be a good fit for IAC. As for Diller, he’ll drive his Maserti off into the sunset as one of the most well-known media CEOs of all time — for better or worse.