Barry Diller expresses interest in Redstone family firm (and Paramount controlling shareholder)

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Thirty years after getting squeezed out in an epic battle for control of Paramount Pictures, Barry Diller appears to be trying again.

The 82-year-old media titan is among the suitors who have expressed interest in buying the Redstone family’s Massachusetts-based holding firm, National Amusements Inc., which controls the voting shares of media company Paramount Global, according to two knowledgeable people who were not authorized to comment publicly.

Paramount Global includes the historic Hollywood studio, broadcast network CBS and a collection of cable TV channels such as MTV and Nickelodeon.

Back in 1994, media mogul Sumner Redstone famously triumphed over Diller in a hard-fought bidding war for control of the Melrose Avenue film studio. Redstone ultimately paid $10 billion for the asset, which many in the industry (including some of Redstone’s own executives) believed was way too steep.

Redstone’s media company, then known as Viacom, then bought Blockbuster video chain for its cash flow that the company needed to service the debt on the Paramount purchase.

Diller, who had run Paramount in the 1970s — overseeing a period of growth and acclaimed movies — withdrew from the bidding with a characteristic shrug. The mogul went on to run Universal, before making a fortune by building a formidable digital media businesses, IAC.

The New York Times first reported Diller’s interest in National Amusements.

Other potential buyers have also surfaced in recent months, making overtures to mogul Shari Redstone who oversees the family’s empire since her father began dealing with health issues eight years ago. Sumner Redstone died in 2020.

The list of potential suitors includes former top Seagram and Warner Music executive Edgar Bronfman Jr., as well as Hollywood producer Steven Paul (“Ghost in the Shell,” “Baby Geniuses”). Any deal is contingent on due diligence and coming up with enough cash to entice the Redstone family to leave a business where they’ve been major players for decades.

Bronfman, the former entertainment executive and liquor scion, pushed his family to acquire Universal Studios Inc. before selling it to France’s Vivendi more than two decades ago. He is backed by Bain Capital and has suggested paying more than $2 billion for the Redstone firm.

It’s unclear whether Diller will submit an offer to NAI, one of the knowledgeable people said.

“IAC does not comment on rumors or speculation,” a company spokesperson said late Monday.

NAI is struggling under a mound of debt. For months, Shari Redstone worked behind the scenes to sell NAI to tech scion David Ellison in a two-phase, nearly $8-billion deal that would have seen him eventually merge his production company Skydance Media with Paramount.

But in June, after months of high drama and boardroom tension, Redstone reversed course and Paramount Global’s proposed sale to Ellison’s Skydance Media collapsed.

The Ellison deal would have provided about $2.2 billion for NAI, or about $1.7 billion for the Redstone heirs once NAI’s debts had been paid.

National Amusements said it supports Paramount’s recently installed triumvirate of executives serving in an “office of the CEO”: division heads George Cheeks, Chris McCarthy and Brian Robbins. It also backed their business plan, which includes $500 million in cost-cutting, and the board’s efforts “to explore opportunities to drive value creation for all Paramount shareholders.”

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