Barry Diller mulling bid to take over Paramount

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.

Diller’s digital media conglomerate, IAC, has signed confidentiality agreements with National Amusements, Paramount’s majority shareholder, the sources said. NDAs are a key step in the deal, as they allow both sides to exchange confidential information.

Diller’s interest in Paramount is the latest twist in one of the most complex and dramatic attempts to sell a media company in several years. Paramount was close to closing a deal in recent months with Skydance, a Hollywood studio, before negotiations abruptly broke down.

The confidentiality agreements were signed some time after a potential deal between Paramount and Skydance fell through in June, two of the people said.

It’s unclear how far along negotiations are between IAC and National Amusements. Others have also expressed interest in acquiring National Amusements, including 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 something of a coda for Diller, 82, who tried to acquire Paramount Pictures in the early 1990s. His offer was outbid by Sumner Redstone, the 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 is credited with rejuvenating the studio and developing a group of talented lieutenants, such as future Disney chief executive Michael Eisner and studio wunderkind Jeffrey Katzenberg, who became known as the Killer Dillers.

After Redstone outbid him for the company, Diller set out to continue building his new media empire, striking a series of bold deals to expand IAC.

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

National Amusements began exploring potential deals last year. As part of its talks with Skydance, Shari Redstone, National Amusements’ largest shareholder, would sell the company to Skydance, while Paramount would merge with Skydance in a separate transaction. That deal fell through after they were unable to reach an agreement on non-economic terms following significant shareholder resistance.

By acquiring National Amusements, a buyer would gain control of Paramount (and its valuable studio catalog) 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 that face significant headwinds.

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