Barry Diller Explores Bid to Take Control of Paramount


The billionaire Barry Diller is exploring a bid to take control of Paramount, the parent company of CBS, MTV and Nickelodeon, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.

Mr. Diller’s digital-media conglomerate, IAC, has signed nondisclosure agreements with National Amusements, Paramount’s controlling shareholder, the people said. Nondisclosure agreements are a key step in deal making, allowing both sides to exchange confidential information.

Mr. Diller’s interest in Paramount is the latest twist in one of the most complex — and dramatic — efforts to sell a media company in several years. Paramount reached the brink of a deal in recent months with Skydance, a Hollywood studio, before talks abruptly fell apart.

The nondisclosure agreements were signed sometime after the possible deal between Paramount and Skydance fell through in June, two of the people said.

It’s unclear how far along the talks between IAC and National Amusements are. Others have also expressed interest in acquiring National Amusements, including the media and finance executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Steven Paul, the Hollywood executive best known for his work on the “Baby Geniuses” franchise.

A bid to take control of Paramount would be a coda of sorts for Mr. Diller, 82, who tried to acquire Paramount Pictures in the early ’90s. He was outbid by Sumner Redstone, the bellicose media mogul whose daughter, Shari, now controls the company.

Mr. Diller was named head of Paramount Pictures in 1974 at the age of 32. He was credited with rejuvenating the studio, developing a cadre of talented lieutenants, like the future Disney chief executive Michael Eisner and the studio wunderkind Jeffrey Katzenberg, that became known as the Killer Dillers.

After Mr. Redstone outbid him for the company, Mr. Diller set his sights on continuing to build his new media empire, striking a series of audacious deals to expand IAC.

“They won,” Mr. Diller said in a statement after losing out to Mr. Redstone. “We lost. Next.”

National Amusements began exploring potential deals last year. As part of its talks with Skydance, Shari Redstone, the largest shareholder at National Amusements, would sell the company to Skydance, while Paramount would merge with Skydance through a separate transaction. That deal was scuttled after they could not agree on noneconomic terms after significant shareholder pushback.

By acquiring National Amusements, a buyer would get control of Paramount — and its valuable studio library — without having to strike a deal to acquire the company outright. But it would also mean taking control of an asset with significant liabilities, including roughly $14 billion in debt and cable businesses facing significant headwinds.

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