Press Releases

Deal could leave Barry Diller leading Universal

By Gary Gentile, The Associated Press
Saturday December 15, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Media mogul Barry Diller could emerge as head of Universal Studios if Vivendi Universal buys the film and TV assets of Diller’s USA Networks, sources familiar with the negotiations said Friday. 

Vivendi Universal confirmed earlier this week that it is negotiating with USA Networks to “increase synergies” with Vivendi’s production divisions, including its highly successful Universal Studios and USA’s distribution outlets such as the Sci-Fi Channel and USA Network. 

Paris-based Vivendi emphasized Friday that the negotiations may or may not result in a deal and refused to comment on speculation regarding Diller’s role if negotiations are successful. 

“Let’s see first if those negotiations are leading or not to an agreement,” Vivendi Universal chairman and chief executive Jean-Marie Messier said during a conference call with reporters. “Business issues first, then we will deal together with the personnel question.” 

According to a source familiar with the talks, Diller could become chief executive of Universal Studios or a new company encompassing the assets of Universal and the film and television divisions of USA. 

But Diller may not assume day-to-day control of Universal, which has been extremely successful in recent years under the leadership of Universal Studios president and chief operating officer Ron Meyer and Universal Pictures chairman Stacey Snider with a string of blockbusters. 

Instead, Diller’s role could be more strategic and center on running the “transactional” parts of the company, including the Home Shopping Network and Internet divisions such as Ticketmaster. 

Calls to USA Networks were not immediately returned. 

Messier seemed to be taking pains Friday to assure Meyer, Snider and other Universal executives that their roles would not be eclipsed if Diller, who previously ran Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox, is named head of Universal. 

”(We have) an outstanding team at the head of Universal Studios,” Messier said. “They are the key driver of the wonderful slate of successes of Universal Studios.” 

Meyer and Snider are credited with leading a turnaround at the studio with major releases such as “The Mummy Returns” and last year’s “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”