Diller Still Has Dealmaking Yen

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USA Networks Inc. CEO Barry Diller sees more large deals on the horizon for his company, boosted by the pending merger of USAi majority investor The Seagram Co. Ltd. with Vivendi S.A. and Canal Plus S.A.

Although Vivendi would inherit the same veto power that currently allows Seagram and Liberty Media Group to quash any USAi transaction worth more than 10 percent of its market cap, Diller said he expects more support from Vivendi than from Seagram.

"We'd be interested opportunistically in being able to purchase on the media side large assets so that we have more bulk, and the timing of that is when and if they're available," Diller told reporters last Wednesday during a call to discuss USAi's second-quarter financial results.

Diller predicted increased activity in the interactive space. He also sees opportunities to leverage television-station assets thanks to the Federal Communications Commission's new duopoly rules.

"I think we're in a great position to sit back and wait," Diller said, predicting that Viacom Inc.-owned CBS stations would be the first to pursue duopolies.

Much of Diller's call with reporters focused on potential deals and on Diller's views of industry issues, such as the pending merger of America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc.

Diller said USAi was considering whether to join media companies such as The Walt Disney Co. and NBC in opposing the merger.

"The issue of concentration at this level is scarifying, and we have a lot of concerns about it," Diller said. "Whether we'll join in a filing with the FCC or participate in the [Federal Trade Commission] level, we haven't determined yet."

But Diller said USAi's focus on home shopping, electronic commerce and its new Information and Services unit puts it in a good position despite the creation of media giants.

"We have a particularly unique way of approaching the future, which no one else has. We may be totally wrong. It may be a crackpot idea. Nevertheless, it's completely unique," Diller said. "Our entertainment assets are not as big as others, but our point of view is crystal clear in its uniqueness."

USAi's assets include USA Network, Sci Fi Channel, Studios USA, USA Broadcasting, Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster and Citysearch.

On the cable side, Diller said he wanted to keep World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. programming, which USA recently lost after a trial with WWFE and Viacom Inc. But he was philosophical about the loss, saying, "It's one of these programs that brought its audience to it, and the moment it was over, they left."

He added that USA has an opportunity to redefine itself "so it will be known for.more than just its highest-rated program."

Diller also attempted to dispel a perception that "all I do is sit up at night yearning and pining for some 'big network,'" insisting, "It's just not accurate."

Earlier, he declined to comment when asked if the pending Vivendi deal would lead him to reinitiate talks to acquire NBC.