Before he became a tech mogul, IAC and Expedia Group chairman Barry Diller was a media mogul, working in executive roles at ABC, Paramount, and Fox. But now, he says, the people who used to have all the power in the entertainment business have a lot less.
“Hollywood is now irrelevant,” Diller said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “... It was these six movie companies essentially were able to extend their hegemony into everything else. It didn’t matter that they started it. When it got big enough, they got to buy it. For the first time, they ain’t buying anything. Meaning they’re not buying Netflix. They are not buying Amazon.”
“In other words, it used to be if you could get your hands on a movie studio, you were sitting at a table with only five other people,” he added. “And so that table dominated media worldwide. That’s over.”
On the new podcast, Diller praised Disney CEO Bob Iger as a “superb executive,” but predicted Disney would only do “okay in streaming” when it launches its streaming service Disney Plus later this year. In general, he advised, “those who chase Netflix are fools.”
“Netflix has won this game,” he said. “I mean, short of some existential event, it is Netflix’s. No one can get, I believe, to their level of subscribers, which gives them real dominance.”
And that includes its closest rival Amazon Prime, which isn’t designed to bid as aggressively on tomorrow’s media stars as Netflix is.
“Amazon’s model is saying, ‘If you join Prime, we’re giving you things,’” Diller said. “‘So our job is to get you to join Prime. If we can get you to do that by giving you Black Panther, or whatever, or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, then great.’ But that model, to people in the entertainment business, is like, ‘Oh my god, how did that happen?’”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Barry.
Kara Swisher: Hi. I’m Kara Swisher, editor-at-large of Recode. You may know me as someone who wants Barry Diller to run for president, because why not? But in my spare time, I talk tech and you’re listening to Recode Decode from the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Today in the red chair is someone I know very well, Barry Diller, who I’ve known, I don’t know, for a million years. Beginning of the internet time.
Barry Diller: Prehistoric times.
Prehistoric. He’s the chairman of IAC, the former CEO of several TV and movie studios. He’s been the chairman of Expedia Group since 2006. He does everything. He’s a man about town. He’s also a big civic booster of New York, which we’re going to talk about a little bit because he’s doing a really cool thing, another cool thing in New York, and he is one of my favorite people to talk to. He’s witty and funny and he has lots of opinions.
Try you. Okay. Barry, welcome to Recode Decode.
Thank you so much.
We talked recently at your IAC event, and we had a really good talk about where that is going. Why don’t you fill us in on the stuff you’re doing, and I do want to talk about the stuff in New York separately, but talk about where you are as chairman of IAC.
What do you mean, where I am?
What are you doing?
Where I am is about ...
What do you spend your days ...
24 blocks north of here.
Thank you. Thank you.
Okay, but ...
What do I do?
I cause a little trouble. I stimulate, I hope, and the great thing for me at this point is on the public companies, there are chief executives of each of them, and so I basically don’t really have ... I have one person. No, I have two people actually reporting to me.
So these people that report to me, who are the CEOs, they run the businesses and I cause trouble here and there, and I help out. Sometimes when asked, sometimes not even being asked.
It’s a different kind of role.
Than an operating role.
Than line operations. But you know, I stopped being a decent manager some time ago.
You are. You’ve had to be. The businesses that you have now are, in IAC, a lot of the dating. You sort of dominate the dating service.
You completely dominate it.
No. Well, whatever.
And then travel.
Travel, and home services with Angie, HomeAdvisor, and Vimeo and, I don’t know. Lots of other stuff.
Talk about those businesses just briefly. The dating business, for example. That’s been the big success. The big knock-it-out-of-the-park kind of business.
Of all of our businesses?
Yes. The one that is the best known, but you have tons ...
Expedia’s not well-known?
Expedia ... No, of course it is, but I want to talk about the dating servicers.
Of course it is. All right, fine.
But you’re dominating.
You just want to talk about the dating services.
No, I don’t. I don’t need to date, but I’m just interested in it.
That’s all right.
Where has it been? You were very early to this, compared to other people.
Well, we were very early, because what could be more natural than saying that if you could make dating an easier prospect than wandering down the street and think that somebody is going to turn the corner and that’s going to be something interesting? And technology solved that 20 or so years ago.
It is such a ... Look, all ways are lovely. It’s great if there’s a coup de foudre and you turn the corner and you’re in love, but the odds are not so great for that. This is just a better process for meeting people.
And what is it going to develop into? Where do you look at the business?
Well, it is what it is. It develops into the thing that it actually does every year more efficiently because the technology gets better. So instead of simply having a little tech stuff, you now have pictures. You can do live video. You can do ... Look, anything that serves people being connected. Whether they do it because they like swiping, because that’s a nice little game to look at pictures of people and you get to quickly swipe right or left depending upon what your interest is, or is not.
So the evolution of it really is simply that more and more people are more comfortable with it. It started out kind of with a bit of a stigma, like, “Oh God, you mean I’m not good enough? I have to resort to online dating to meet somebody?” But I think that’s all washed away as more and more things get done digitally.
And you have several. You have Match. You’ve got Tinder. You’ve got ...
OkCupid. PlentyOfFish. We’ve got lots.
You got lots. You got lots of offers for people, and Tinder obviously is the one that gets the most attention.
Well, because Tinder is one of those phenomenons. They do not come along very often.
And this was grown up in-house, and that’s also fairly rare for a large company to be able to innovate with really new things. And so Tinder was 0 to 90 miles an hour in a flash of a second.
So yeah, Tinder’s a phenomenon.
And travel. Let’s talk about travel. Where is that, from your perspective?
Where is it?
It’s doing well, travel. The world travels. Expedia is the world’s largest travel company. It has shockingly $115 billion in gross sales, which is quite remarkable. 27,000 employees, so it’s a fairly large enterprise now, servicing every form of travel in almost every country in the world, and it’s a tech company. It’s 6,000 or so engineers. It’s a tech marvel. I mean, to be able to take all of this information coming from all of these sources ...
The hotels and planes and ...
And trains and planes and whatever, and cars, and tame that so that when you just type in a simple query, it snaps it right back to you and serves you. I mean, that’s kind of magic.
And how do you look at the whole travel scene? Obviously, Airbnb is going to go public this year. I think most people expect it.
So they say.
It’s sort of a comer in that space. How do you look at that, how that space is developing? So they say. They’re going public.
We have a company called HomeAway, or also V-R-B-O, VRBO, which is vacation rentals. It’s not exactly the same thing as the classic Airbnb which is rent your extra room, so to speak, or your extra bed, or whatever. Or rent yourself. But Airbnb has a slice of this, but people in the hotel business worry about it that in fact it’s going to encroach upon “normal,” so to speak, or standard hotel services. I don’t really think so.
Well, they would get into ... They’d be a partner, I would think.
It’s also younger people, and older people are two segments of naturalness, so to speak, for Airbnb. Younger people because it’s much cheaper than a hotel room. Younger people also for the same reason as really older people is community.
It’s interesting. Yeah.
They want some warmth around them rather than a maid who never shows up.
Right, exactly. The shift in travel to me is the most interesting part of a lot of the way we do that and how we move and information and things like that. Do you see another shift happening in that? In being able to make it even more facilitating?
I think that technology, what I see in machine learning and AI and its ability ... Every birdbrain will tell you the same, but I see it so practically in travel because the ability for tech to actually give you services that surprise you, meaning that they’ve put together this, that, and other disparate information, and again through these advanced tech platforms are able to give you an experience that you would never get before in the way that you could never get it.
Right. Or have the knowledge about it.
Well yeah. Again, it used to be you wanted to go to Zanzibar, you ...
I never did, but go ahead.
Well if you did, you’d really read about it. You’d go through this whole process.
With a travel agent. Yeah.
It would take you a long time to research it, to figure it out. What you would be doing wouldn’t be that reliable just because there was not enough information. All this is now in a millisecond. It used to be you could never see a hotel room you were going to stay in. They’d have to describe it to you or whatever. There weren’t pictures. There weren’t video virtual tours. There weren’t all of these services that technology ... I mean, I do go on too much about all of that ...
No, not at all. It’s absolutely true.
Tech stuff, but I actually do. Because we were in it very early, so I saw. Expedia was the first company to really colonize an offline area. An area that had never been online.
Let’s talk about that idea of you seeing something early. One of the things I always tell people, someone said, “Who in the media was very smart about this?” And I said there were two people who contacted me. One was you and one was Peter Chernin, of all people, who were interested in internet stuff and who saw it pretty early. You with home shopping, the Home Shopping Network.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
And Peter with lots of different things.
Before the internet. Three years before the internet.
They were doing Myspace and things like that. Why was that? I never really asked you. Why were you ...
Why was what? Why me?
Yeah. Why did you see that, compared ... Because a lot of people were very recalcitrant. I guess Bob Iger was a little bit on the edge of that more, the traditional media executives I knew.
Well, I mean, there’s no “traditional media.” First of all, traditional media. Narrative media.
But you’ve never been traditional at anything.
Well, narrative media, say. Screens that are used to tell stories, as against screens that are used for other purposes, i.e. the world of computational stuff. The cavern between them is ... You can’t make a bigger cavern. In their brain formation, they do such completely different things. Narrative media is an instinctive, editorial process. I like this idea as against that idea. Whatever.
And we’ll develop it into ...
You think research can help you. It’s quite purely instinctual.
Whereas on the other side for sure, everything tech is ones, zeros.
In perfect order of the blocks falling, so they’re completely opposite brain systems and that’s why I think there’s been such very little, almost none, but rare stories where it has been so of that divide has never been well crossed. But for me what happened was, like everything for me, it was serendipitous. And also because I do have curiosity, so in the early ’90s ... God.
We met in the Ticketmaster office. You don’t remember that. I do.
Did we really?
Yeah. You didn’t like the furniture.
Well of course. Why would I?
The guy who ran it. What’s his name?
Oh, the guy who did it had no taste.
Yeah. You said that. That’s exactly what you ...
But what were you doing at Ticketmaster?
Fred. Fred Rosen.
Fred Rosen. What were you doing at Ticketmaster?
You invited me there.
Because you wanted to talk about the internet.
You were like, “You, girly, seem to know about the internet.”
”Come in and speak to me.”
All right, fine.
And I said, “Absolutely. You did Tuesday Movie of the Week. I will come any day.”
That is true. I did do that. And Wednesday Movie of the Week too, thank you. The thing that happened was that in ’94, ’95, I knew two guys at Fox, and the first thing I saw in my tour ... Because I didn’t want to repeat myself. I had been running movie companies for a long time. I went to QVC. This is at that time ...
It’s still in Pennsylvania.
Anyway, and I saw again screens being used for something other than telling stories, and I said, “Whoa!” I’d never seen that one before, and that intrigued me. I thought, that is an application of something I thought I completely understood and I completely don’t understand this application.
Though they were telling stories too. They were telling ...
No, no, no. What I’m saying is that ...
Yes, I get it.
There’s a difference between using a screen, being passive, sitting back and listening, watching someone tell a tale. As against what QVC did which was it was a very primitive convergence of telephones, television sets, and computers where you did something, put up a piece of Kleenex and said, “Would you like to buy this?” And somebody on the other end instead of being passive and getting a Coke ...
Said, “I want it” and was able to order it. So that fascinated me, and I didn’t know what was going to happen with it, but I thought, things are going to happen out of that utterly unknown, and that’s when I took this interest in QVC and then that was ’92, ’93, and that led me in ’95, ’96 to the very beginnings of the consumer internet.
I mean it was so ... That’s how ...
So let me fast-forward to today, because now those consumer internet companies, which you knew very well in the early days — the Googles, the Facebooks, the Amazons — have now moved into entertainment. Not Facebook, Apple.
How do you look at that now? As they now look up and say, “Maybe we need to move into this space.” And they have. Obviously Netflix has led the way.
Well, as I said, there’s exceptions, and this is an interesting one in Netflix. Netflix is the real exception. Netflix really came into this, again, very primitive but not real tech, but came into it with those boxes that stood in stores where you could get a film and it would clang down and you’d pull the film or whatever, and then ...
Then into mailing movies, and it is the brilliance really of Reed Hastings, the founder really of Netflix, that he was able to come from a fair pure tech background ...
He really does. Yeah.
That he was able to get into this narrative show business thing in such a sure-footed way that no one else has really been able to do. You can’t compare it. The only other tech company that is in this world of media, really in media, is Amazon.
But Amazon’s business model has nothing to do with anything anybody who’s been in the entertainment business has lived with their whole lives, which is, we have one job. We entertain the folks. If they like what we do, they buy a ticket or subscribe to this or get that, and then they get that in a fair exchange for their creative ability being essentially exchanged by somebody who says, “I’ll buy that thing.” Amazon’s model has nothing to do with it.
Toilet paper. They’re selling toilet paper or whatever.
Amazon’s model is saying, “If you join Prime, we’re giving you things. So our job is to get you to join Prime. If we can get you to do that by giving you Black Panther, or whatever, or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, then great.” But that model, to people in the entertainment business, is like, “Oh my god, how did that happen? I don’t know how to do that one. I don’t know how. I only know how to serve my entertainment customer. I have no idea how to get somebody to join Prime, to do this, to get my end product which is a creative thing.” Anyway, that ...
Right. So where does that lead, because Apple is now moving very heavily into it after ...
Well I wouldn’t say they’re heavily yet.
Not heavily, but more. There’s money.
Well, they’re prancing around. They have their little feet in it. They’ve hired some people. They’re spending some money, but they do not have at least yet, although they’re going to announce something I think very soon or start their streaming service.
Everybody is going to play in this, but I think that those who chase Netflix are fools. Or try to compete with Amazon Prime, because I don’t think there’s any ability for anybody in the, let’s call it the ... The media business, the entertainment business, who do so. And I’m not saying that other people can’t build services. Disney has good programming.
They’re starting their streaming. Right.
They’ll get some subscribers. But to chase ... Netflix has won this game. I mean, short of some existential event, it is Netflix’s. No one can get, I believe, to their level of subscribers, which gives them real dominance. They can outbid, and do...
And they do.
… anyone, and they will continue to do so.
Right. They just got Ryan Murphy. They got Shonda Rhimes. They got ...
Well yeah, but they will outbid anyone because they have the platform to be able to do so. That network effect circle ...
Then what happens in Hollywood now? How do you look at it when you look at ...
Hollywood is now irrelevant.
I mean it has nothing ...
Explain. That’s a big statement. Explain.
It is. Look. It will make and continue to make programming. Clearly. And that was one of its functions. But what happened to the entertainment business since the early, you know, hundred years ago, is that the ... Basically let’s start with radio. Radio essentially was dominated by NBC, CBS, and as the decades went on, they were able to, because the hegemony was complete, they were then able to get into television. Then they were able to get into the cable business. Then they were able to get into all these businesses, all of which, not that they founded them, but when they got big enough, they would buy them.
So little Warner Bros. Studio bought Time Inc. which had HBO. And CBS, which actually was the leader in news. It wasn’t CBS that started 24-hour cable news, but it was Ted Turner who eventually got bought by Warners. So it was these six movie companies essentially were able to extend their hegemony into everything else. It didn’t matter that they started it. When it got big enough, they got to buy it. For the first time, they ain’t buying anything. Meaning they’re not buying Netflix. They are not buying Amazon.
No, they’re not.
And consequently, their relevance in the world ... In other words, it used to be if you could get your hands on a movie studio, you were sitting at a table with only five other people. And so that table dominated media worldwide. That’s over. So when you ask about Hollywood, what connotes “Hollywood,” which is that that era is over and finished.
So how do they get … You have Iger buying [Fox].
Well, what happened is for the first time in a hundred years you saw now the shrinkage. In other words, six movie companies has now gone down to five, because Fox will cease to exist except as some small little brand like TriStar in five or 10 years, so Fox as an entity is gone.
Look. Disney is making a very big play because it’s got so much content and because it’s Disney, they’ve always stood a bit apart. They’re going to continue to have relevance, and Bob Iger’s a superb executive and there’s a lot of depth in that company, and they’ll be a world player.
Theme parks. They’ve got other things.
And do okay in streaming. Again, hopefully they don’t chase Netflix with capital expense. But other than that, the movie company’s play no larger role than just making stuff.
What about tech companies, how you see them? Obviously, they’ve had a very bad year, there’s all these issues around ... Does it matter or is it just … They’ve had a good financial year.
They make tons of money, they’re grappling with the adolescent age, where lots of other things come up. They’re real serious issues, they’re real social issues that are a byproduct of it. But if you think that they’re in no economic or in industrial economic danger ... They may and should, in some cases, be regulated. Because things that have power and influence and, in some cases, monopolies, need regulation, which will come.
Right. How do you feel that they’ve behaved? Do you think that they ...
I think they’ve done ... Look, they’ve done what any dope would do. And I don’t mean “dope” in a negative way. What they did is, with wisdom, greater wisdom than, I think, you demand from them, they started getting these extraordinary outsize audiences. And particularly ... We’ll do it with Facebook. And the consequences of those audiences and what you have to do about them, when you get to that size, is something that in their speed and their thing to develop it, and only recently did they start actually getting any revenue for this stuff, and their revenue then skyrocketed and all of that.
Just tracking that, just getting it to function is a very, very big task. Can you fault them for not, at the same time, saying, “Oh my God, there are consequences here we really have to deal with?” Well, first of all, I don’t really think they knew about those consequences. I think those consequences were told to them by what happened with Russia, what’s also happened with disinformation, and all sorts of other things.
They’re doing, now, and have been doing diligently, they’ve been taking care of that aspect to the extent that they can, which is never gonna be perfect. But I’ve always thought ... I think Mark Zuckerberg is a fine and decent citizen. Probably far more decent than any other outsize industrial development of the last trillion years.
Yes, probably. Better than Andrew Carnegie. I’ll give you that.
Or John D. Rockefeller and whatever, but Carnegie, too. All of them. And by the way, post Carnegie, Mr. Smith at GM, and this one and that one. I think Mark’s very decent and very thoughtful, and he will sort it out. Is it easy pickings? Of course, meaning the sense that, here’s this person who’s very young, very rich, very powerful, and all this stuff. He should be criticized, he should be able to take that criticism, and he should be able to be productive about it.
Do you imagine they will be? Because a lot of the interviews they do, they do tend to ... What’s really interesting to me is, when I talk to them, when something’s great, it’s them, when it’s not, it’s “we.” Like, “We need to fix this.” And I was like, “I didn’t break it.” So, I don’t know. Do you think people are being too hard on them in that regard? I don’t, obviously, you know that.
I don’t think they’re being too hard on them, I think that’s fine. Meaning, yeah, they should get criticized because they’ve made mistakes. I don’t think those mistakes were of commission, it’s not like they said, “Yes, let’s have our stuff ... Let’s have evil, horrible stuff flow through our communication pipes.” But their criticism is fine, I don’t think you take it to the next level.
Which would be?
Of saying, “Let’s throw him out.” Or, “He is not appropriate to serve.”
Right, or, “Let’s regulate them in such a way.”
No, I do think ...
So what regulation, for example?
Well, I’m not a regulator here. I do think, as I said, a general thing is — and, particularly, this is true of Google, which is an absolute monopoly. Facebook’s not really ... it’s got a big audience, but it’s not a monopoly.
You could easily see a future where it isn’t being used.
It’s not structurally monopolous. But I think when you’ve got that kind of power it’s that you will “abuse” it. By nature, it gets abused. If you have monopsic power, then you are going to squeeze, this one, that one, and the other one, in order to simply get to the next day.
So proper regulation in those areas, particularly, as I say, for Google, because with Google ... Google can’t help but being predatory in saying, well, you used to get all this traffic for free, our goal, over the last, now it’s about 10 years, has been to say, no, traffic is not going to be free. Those 10 blue links you used to see are now disappearing, so below the fold, so below the main page ...
You will be paying for access to our system.
You’re simply going to pay us for this. And that’s a natural ... Yeah, why not? Well that, since there are no other alternatives, that needs some regulation. In terms of whether or not you allow them to say, okay, we used to, in travel, put your travel services here. We’re gonna, essentially, take your money ... And, Expedia spends $3 billion a year ...
Yes. Well, a little less than that, but on marketing, on internet marketing, on SEM.
A lot of Google and Facebook, pretty much.
Google and Facebook.
Yeah. Anyway, it’s certainly ...
It’s a big number.
... Above $2 billion. And we don’t think it’s a good idea when you’re paying somebody to advertise on their servers, and they go into competition directly against you. We think that’s, kind of, wrong.
Many people do.
So, that would be a form of regulation.
So, do you imagine that’s coming? Do you see it coming?
Yeah. Of course it is.
No, nothing comes quickly.
No, nothing comes quickly. All right, let’s move to Amazon and Jeff Bezos. Obviously, he’s been in the news and a lot of his body parts have been in the news.
You can’t help yourself.
I can’t help it, but come on. He did it. He put it out there, so to speak. I can’t help it, it’s a minefield of puns.
Yes, yes, yes.
You were on the board of the Washington Post.
Yes, I was, for many years.
You were, for many years. How do you look at them, as an entity? You didn’t mention them, you mentioned Google and Facebook here.
As what? You mean, in terms of ...
As giant entities, yeah.
Oh, Amazon is absolutely there! And one of the great things about Bezos is, as against others who’ve been very defensive about this stuff, Jeff Bezos said, long before it ever went directly at him, he said, “We are absolutely deserving of great scrutiny. We are a very large company and we deserve to be put under anyone’s Microsoft” — Microsoft, wow!
That’s cool, I love that. Please save that piece.
I will, it’s going on.
“Anyone’s microscope, and be completely open and not defensive about that process,” which is exactly the right attitude. So, what’s your question?
So where do they stand in this lexicon of power?
No, they’re an increasingly powerful entity and they need people to look at their practices. And when they go over the line, which they absolutely will, not as a matter of some evil person petting a kitten in the back room, stroking a kitten devilishly, but that’s going to happen. And when that happens there should be results to that. So yes, Amazon, of course, qualifies for that. And I think, under the circumstances, Mr. Bezos has handled all this recentness, I think he’s handled it courageously.
Were you surprised by his response?
I am a very good friend of both Jeff’s and Mackenzie’s, as is my wife, and I will never have a single thing to say about any of that.
Okay. But I mean in terms of pushing back on this kind of behavior?
Well, I think he did, as it relates to what he did publicly, which is when he wrote his blog, whatever.
Memo. To David Pecker. The National Enquirer.
No, where did he release it?
Medium, right. I thought, many people, there’s no one you could say ... that’s not true. We’re all in his position, to one degree or another, meaning when you have a lot of assets, you’re a wealthy person, a lot of people would have said, let’s just put this in the drawer. Because making that statement, taking that position, is gonna invite what is has invited, which is lots of attention, ridicule, puns, etc., a great work in the New York Post front page, and all of that. And that’s a courageous act.
Yeah, absolutely. How do you think he’s run the Washington Post? Having been there.
Wonderfully. No, I mean ... The Washington Post, I was, I think there was nine board members at the time, or 10, I guess, because it was nine to one to sell the Washington Post, and I was the one who said we shouldn’t sell the Washington Post.
Why was that?
Because I thought that the Graham family, which had done such a wonderful job being its steward for all that time, had, in their company, which was called The Post Company, at the time, had enough resources to be able to invest more in the Washington Post and continue to be its steward.
And it was because Don Graham, who is one of the finest human people that I’ve ever known, Don Graham said, “I have a greater responsibility, I have a responsibility to the shareholders. And I cannot ... acquitting that responsibility, knowing what I know, I can’t do that.” And I argued that companies are more than just simply for shareholder returns. They have other responsibilities to their communities, to what their product is, to all sorts of things, da da da da.
In any event, they sold it. And by the way, there were a few people I would’ve hated to buy it, one of whom almost did.
No, not Murdoch. No, no, no.
Oh, I know. I think I know.
And so when Mr. Bezos bought it, I thought, well, that’s fantastic. Because I certainly know him and his sense of obligation, responsibility, quality, and he’s done a fantastic job with it. And so, the reluctance of the Washington Post company and the Graham family to continue to support it and sell it to the right person was a great act of great good luck, because now, the Post is thriving.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And he’s brought some technological changes to it that were smart.
He’s done good stuff with it, yes he has.
He has. And he’s leaving it alone, from what I can tell, for the most part.
Well, the idea ... I think proprietorship ... I’ve always felt this about the film business and the television businesses that I’ve been in when creators say, “Well, the greatest thing that they did was they left me alone.” I do not believe that people should be left alone.
I’m talking about meddling. Yes, I agree with you, I think he should be involved in the things ...
It’s not in my DNA to do that.
I’ve heard that.
Yes, that’s probably known by some. I don’t think that that’s a bad thing, I think it’s a responsibility of proprietorship. And so, he and Marty Baron and whatever, have gone to lengths to stay never involved in any part of the editorial process. Frankly, any editorial process would be bettered by somebody as smart, decent, engaged, as he is.
I was always impressed with one thing about ... God knows, I’m not a ... I had nothing to do with Fox News when I was at Fox. We did Fox broadcasting, out of which, after I left, came Fox News.
So we won’t give you the blame, Barry.
You cannot do that. But the one thing that I always admired about Murdoch is when it came to the ultimate responsibility for what was in his newspapers, he said, “I stand behind every one of them. When you want to look for who, look to me. I am the proprietor of those papers and take that responsibility.” It’s the same thing I felt in the movie business when some of my fellow movie executives would say, “Oh, well, that was Oliver Stone’s fault for making a movie where he literally said that Lyndon Johnson murdered JFK.”
A wildly irresponsible movie on every level, historically and every other thing, and the people in charge of the company said, “Well, that’s not our responsibility.” To which, I said, “It is, of course, your responsibility.” So, anyway, there we are.
So you have Bezos running these, you have other ... You talked about Murdoch, you brought up Murdoch, who you had a long history with, previously. You have Laurene Jobs buying up some stuff, putting money into the Atlantic and stuff like that. You’ve got Marc Benioff buying Time. How do you look at this? This era of media and tech converging? Or tech money, at least.
Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. Laurene Jobs is ... I don’t think she or anyone else would ever think of her as a technician.
A fortune comes from that, but it doesn’t matter where the fortune comes from. And I know ... Benioff said to me, because I just saw him the other night, and I said, “So why, having been a person who bought Newsweek magazine, stupidly, and lost a lot of money, why are you doing this, Marc?” And he really said, “I’m curious about it, number one, and number two, there are a lot of things that I believe in,” all of which, by the way, are pro social, I mean, they may be too pro social or too whatever, you can do whatever you want on the critical rainbow, but he’s buying it for public service purposes.
He has the money to do so. Whether that ever works out economically, doing something for public service, he’s a very good businessman, so maybe he confused the two, but all of these things are, I think, positive, not negative.
Do you see more of that happening? Do you see a ... It’s interesting that this genre of tech money is interested in media, so interested in media, both personally and from their companies’ perspectives.
I think you overstate it a bit.
All right. Okay, they just have money and they don’t want to buy a sports team?
Yeah. I mean ...
Although, I have to say, Pierre Omidyar, who started eBay when he was getting into hotels, I’m like, “Why are you doing that?” He’s like, “I just don’t want to own a sports team.” I was like, “Is that, like, a requirement of a billionaire? Is that, like, you have to buy something?”
Do something. Yeah, like, I’m building an island ...
We’re gonna talk about the island in the next section, I want to understand your ...
In Manhattan, because I don’t want to buy a sports team, although my son does. I’m sure someday he will.
I wanna finish up this section with ... You’ve done a lot of things. What are you curious about, right now? And then, I wanna talk about the island almost completely in the next section. And your other New York City stuff.
It is curious, I am really lucky. I really do say it, because I think you either ... I don’t think it’s something you can buy or develop or whatever, but I am and always have been natively curious. I am curious about almost everything, too many things. And that ends up being ... Usually my grasp has never gotten within reach, or the other way around.
So, what am I curious about now? Right now, I’m not actually ... I’m trying to write a book, and that takes up almost all my angst.
It’s hard to do.
Yes it is, I’ve written two.
It’s hard to do.
Are you writing it yourself or do you have a ghostwriter?
I have no ghost, no.
You’re just typing away.
I am typing ... I wouldn’t call it away, I’m typing slowly. I should finish by 2082.
I’m trying to ... I know that, again, in pure story terms, I have a good story, it’s an interesting story. And so I want to try and tell it, and the only ... I have nothing to sell, I mean, I’m not trying to teach anybody anything and I’m not writing a business book, whatever. I just think I’ve got a good story and the only reason for it to be done or me to do it is if I do it myself.
And that’s a bitch.
Do you have a thematic thing ...
... Or a title, do you have a title?
I don’t have a title. No.
”Barry Diller doesn’t give any fucks” would be the title.
No, no, no, I give too many fucks.
Oh, really? That’s interesting. You know, people used to say, about Steve Jobs, “He is heartless.” I was, like, “No, he has too much heart.” I said, “That is really the issue, more than anything.” And it seems heartless, that’s why ...
Yes, yes, yes.
Which was interesting. All right, so what are you interested in, right now? And then I want to get ...
What am I interested in right now?
I said, I’m writing ...
Writing the book, but what thing, what thematic thing interests you?
Ah, thematic? I don’t do thematics.
All right, all right, Barry Diller can be introspective, that’s fine.
Well, that is as introspective as the plot will allow.
You mean like the world order and issues of whether or not the green thing [Green New Deal] should pass?
I think it’s a nice, idealistic, and idiotic concept.
I want to first start on the political thing, and then I wanna talk about what you’re doing civically, because you’ve been very civically involved here in New York City. You love New York City, you’ve been here much of your life, right?
Well, off and on, yeah.
Off and on, you’ve lived in Los Angeles for part of it, right?
I still live in Los Angeles.
Talk, first, about the politics right now. We’re about to pass this government bill finally.
Trump is going say he won.
Whatever. How do you look at the political scene right now? Or the state of the country?
With great dismay.
Why is that?
Because we have a thoroughly rotten leader in the country, an accident of history that hopefully will be over soon. Though the Democrats, in their usual way, are not coming out ... In the beginning of this long, long process, will be for the next couple of years, they’re not coming out at the very beginning of it in anything but a, I think, a destructive way, but that’s okay, it’ll be early mistakes. But hopefully, in two years, to paraphrase Gerald Ford, this national nightmare will be over.
And that is what I think we have. I think we’ve degraded ourselves, we’ve degraded the office of the presidency, we’ve degraded politics, we’ve degraded almost everything since he entered the picture.
Why is it an accident? Some people think this is exactly the age of the social media, the age of noise, the age of cable, the age of Fox News, the age of this led to all this.
Because I would like to think and it’s maybe thoroughly naïve that it is hopefully an accident, that it happened because of a confluence of forces that put essentially the video game in tilt.
I mean, it made it so that someone unqualified, indecent ... I mean look, we’ve had good presidents, bad presidents, we’ve had excesses and this and that. I don’t think we’ve ever had an actually bad person, his core, a mean and ...
You know, I could riff on with all the things. Oh, my god. Everybody’s said them already. You don’t need to hear it. I think that is hopefully an accident of historical forces and not something that is essentially going to be repeated by Pamela Anderson becoming presidentress.
President. She might do a better job. That would be ... Is she running?
I don’t know.
I don’t know. All right. So what happens then? Where do we come out of it?
It will be over.
It will be over.
Again, we’ve got to go through a lot of process and that process isn’t pretty. Certainly Democrats are not, in my opinion, coming out of it or entering it ...
Do you like any candidate right now?
I like lots of them. Some of them, I mean, I’ve known for a long time. Some are my friends. Some are people I don’t know. There are tons of them.
Who would be the most ideal candidate?
I can’t do that.
You can’t say? Okay.
I won’t do that. Other than to say, which I’ve said to some of my friends, everybody knocks on the doors looking for support. I’ve said the only commitment that I’ve made — and it’s just a commitment of honor, so to speak — is if Mike Bloomberg runs, I will absolutely support him.
And why is that?
Because I think he would be without, to me, any question ... This country would be very lucky to have a leader like him in that office. I think it’s going to be difficult for that to happen for him. So if it does, I support him. If it doesn’t, I’ve said ... Not that it matters what I say to these people, but I said “Let’s get through the winning on process and see where we go.”
See where we go. Bloomberg’s interesting. I think he sort of missed that turn in the last ... He probably could have prevailed in many ways if you think about it.
Yeah. It’s history and who knows?
He would say that there was no chance, that he would have only ensured, if it wasn’t gonna happen, the victory of Trump, but I don’t know.
I don’t think so.
My argument has always been to him and to others is you can’t do this by polling. You can’t do this by research.
You just got to get in.
When you get in, you change the dye in the water.
Getting in changes the water. Therefore, you can’t predict it.
Absolutely. It’s an instinct. You’re like ... What do you think of Howard Schultz’s candidacy, the independents, and the billionaire backlash given you’re in that little club?
Well, I think it’s kind of predictive. I’m surprised only because Howard’s a bright man.
I can’t imagine why he would come out and say he’s going to run as an independent which seems to make utterly no sense to me, but whatever.
What about the billionaire backlash? Do you feel a backlash, Barry? Billionaire Barry.
Well I don’t ... I think for sure it is not the age right now to say, “Oh, god. There goes a good billionaire.” I mean, I think that right now people are skeptical and I think that’s okay. I think that, like everything else, there are good ones and bad ones.
Most of them, however, vast, vast majority have made great contributions to society, to charity, to this, to that. I watched Gates the other morning. I read the ... I don’t know. He just came out with this letter. I don’t know if you read it.
He did. His letter. Yes, I have.
I thought to myself, “Look at the transformation of this person.”
Oh, yeah, speaking of difficult people.
Look at the transformation of somebody ... I didn’t really compete with him, though in one little case he actually thought we did, years and years and years ago. But here’s somebody who was as pure pitch a businessperson as you could find and he has truly converted himself. I mean, converted. The personal growth of this person is simply phenomenal. His talent, his capacious brain, bigger than almost anyone’s, that by self-direction, he turned it to the betterment of humanity.
Yeah, he took the aggression. He took his massive aggression and did that. Yeah, I’d agree.
And is so wildly impressive that I think, God, there for the human spirit. How lucky we are.
And then he has the means to do so. Speaking of the means, one of the things you’ve been doing are a lot of civic things in New York City particularly. I don’t think I’m aware of other cities you’re so focused on.
Los Angeles. You’ve been doing ... You haven’t been digging that tunnel with Elon have you?
No, no, no.
All right. Well let’s talk first about New York.
You built ... You helped the High Line.
Yes, we did. We did.
You and your wife, Diane.
Yes, very much so.
Which was this old railroad.
Yeah, two and a half, 2.7 mile abandoned railroad track.
Elevated track that had been decaying for 60 years and was going to be torn down because the developers in the Lower West Side of New York, which is where it is, said that it was impeding their development. By the way, a development none of them had done in about 40 years.
Right. Nothing had been done down there.
All they did is sat on their property, but they thought they should tear this down. A great irony is because Diane, my wife, was one of the one or two people who actually prevented Giuliani from being able to tear it down just before he ended his term as mayor. The irony is that, of course now, it’s now almost 20 years later and every ... The Lower West Side, because of the High Line ...
Yeah, is now an attraction. Hudson Yard.
Has had the greatest development, the greatest development, creative, architectural, buildings, everything you could imagine, and these real estate folk have benefited more than of course anyone else and they’re the ones who wanted to tear the thing down.
So anyway, we’re very proud of that.
So you built that. It’s beautiful to walk on.
I’m sure Rudy Giuliani takes his daily constitution there to clear his very clear head. I bet he does. I bet he uses it. That would be very funny.
You did this and created a beautiful civic space.
Yes, yes, yes, a public space.
Public space that was really lovely and people ... There’s all kinds of businesses pulling off of it like you said and the neighborhoods have gotten better.
My god. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Did you anticipate that or you were just like “This is something real ...”
No. We thought it was ... Look, like all these things you do, we thought what a good idea this was. The imagination and how it was done was really an amazing work of art. We thought the first year we’d have ... We thought actually, we thought 350,000 people would come in the first year. We had three million seven in the first year.
We had, last year, six and a half million people come. It so far exceeded anybody’s original idea, which is always great. You either exceed it this way or to me ...
I’m really interested in cities, why that succeeded, because cities are going ... Talk about digital transformations and no cars maybe, things will be changing in cities.
That would be nice in this city.
There’s gonna be no cars in the city.
We’ll be dead, Barry, but that’s the way it’s gonna be.
It’ll be up-down stuff, it’ll be vertical lift and takeoff, it’ll be autonomous.
That’s my feeling.
That’ll be before the synchronicity.
Or the singularity.
It’s all a simulation anyway, Barry. We’re all characters in a mind-fucking game with someone. But when you think about making the city beautiful, what you did was a statement that analog city matters.
Here’s the thing: My reason again that it caught my interest is because I have always been amazed at public work, public art. You go to Central Park and you think, how did they do this?
Right in the middle.
150, 160 years ago. They took this place and they made this thing out of it, which just the doing of it was almost impossible.
It should’ve been buildings, in other words.
Or anything that you see. They’re all electives and it took somebody to say, “I’m gonna create something here that didn’t exist before,” and then they do it, sometimes it works out terribly because it’s not a good thing. But when it works out, you come upon it and you marvel, “Oh my God, that was somebody’s elective to do something that now I get to walk by it or walk in it or be part of it and how lucky am I that that thing happened?”
Right, that they had that impetus. Central Park, you think about in the middle of a city which should’ve had buildings all over it.
But there’s so many examples of this and they’re not just here, they’re all over the country. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, George Kayser, who is a big oil person, built a 450 — along whatever that river is there — park that you just go and you marvel at his imagination and the fact that 100 years from today, people will be wandering on it. It was just this guy saying ...
“We need a park.”
“I’m gonna do something to make something better for the public,” you know?
I don’t know, that juices me.
That loss of civic responsibility, that’s one of the issues in San Francisco right now, a lot of the tech people, they live up in their things and they have not contributed to the body, the civic life of the city.
I think that maybe it’s early for them and hopefully they will, but yeah, I think that’s a terrible shame.
Yeah, San Francisco’s a hellscape now. The most beautiful city in the world is ...
San Francisco is gorgeous physically.
But it’s a hellscape now, to walk through it.
What is just amazing to me and I say it to Sam Altman, you know Sam.
I’ll be doing a big interview with him in a couple of weeks.
Are you? Anyway, I was in San Francisco and I left him at lunch on Market Street and I was walking from there back to the Four Seasons, about probably a mile and a half, something like that. I thought, I cannot believe I’m walking down this scary street on a sunny day and I’m literally dodging things that just should not be taking place in a cosmopolitan city.
I thought, I don’t care what your excuses are. All you people who are leaders of San Francisco, you’re not doing your work.
Right, agreed. It’s really, it happened very quickly, which was really fascinating. It was a relatively new phenomena of people. I do think it’s linked to the tech leaders not taking responsibility. In the old days, you had Bank of America, the founders of Wells Fargo, would take civic responsibility for cities.
And that’s ... rich people’s civic duties are to contribute.
Absolutely. It has been true in New York, it’s been true in Los Angeles. I participated, growing up in Los Angeles. Whatever. Anyway.
Talk about your new thing. This is the thing I wanted to talk about most of all and we’ll finish up on that.
We are, for our sins, we’re building an island off the Hudson River.
Let’s do that.
You can see it going up right now before your very eyes.
Explain it. An island.
It started, like many things ...
Is it called Diller Island?
No! Absolutely not. It’s called Pier 55 and probably is gonna end up being called Little Island.
Okay, all right.
It’s a sweet name. Anyway, it started very prosaically which is the people who ... Hudson River Park Trust which covers the waterfront from Battery Park up to George Washington Bridge and has lots of piers and lots of development ...
Lots of parks.
And lots of public works that they’ve done and parks. There was a pier that was falling apart, they came and they said, “Would you like to just rebuild this pier? We’ll just put a pier up and it’ll be for entertainment stuff, but it’s falling.”
And there’s been, there’s that pier with the sports on it.
There’s Pier 40.
Every city has piers that used to bring in stuff.
Right, there’s this declining pier.
I said, “Well, I don’t know about just rebuilding this thing, but if we could be ambitious about it because there’s nothing on the water, architecturally.”
No there’s not. It’s amazing.
In this great city, whatever, whatever.
On either side.
Absolutely true. We started to think about that and out of that came this plan which if I had a picture I could push through this microphone and show you, I think you would see that it’s very architecturally ambitious.
It’s, I think, a thing of real beauty and it is a ... It is founded on driving 265 piles into the Hudson River and then on top of those piles, putting 169 essentially petals that form the outline and the support for what is a park and a performance center.
Right. It’s highly technical, what you’re doing.
It’s ridiculously ambitious. No one’s ever, which is what they say to me every time the costs go up, which is I say, this was a firm budget. They say, no, it’s an R&D project. I said, that’s easy for you to say.
Well, it is but it’s highly technical what you’re doing. I was reading through the stuff.
It is crazy.
It is very, very, very.
It doesn’t float, it floats on the river because it floats on big, big cement piles.
But it’s just started to come up. It’ll take another three years and it is simply a gift, simply ... It is for the people of New York and the people who visit New York to enjoy themselves on. That’s it’s pure purpose.
And will it be a performance space, a ...
It will be everything.
It will be festivals, we think of it as it’s whimsical. We hope that when you walk out to it on bridges and as you enter midway through that bridge, you’ll leave the New York noise and stuff behind and enter a fairyland.
How very Willy Wonka of you.
A whimsical place for you to be with your kids, with your friends, hang out, lay about, be entertained, be stimulated, laugh, cry, and do all of those things. It’s very ...
Are there digital elements to it? Or are you just saying analog all the way.
No, no, no. This is not ... I mean, it’s digitally supported in every way we can think of, but no, this is absolutely about touch and feel. This is about grass and this is about ... The landscaping for this, I would hate to quantify for anybody because it would scare them and me. But it’s designed to be beautiful and to touch it and feel it.
Do you think that’s necessary in this modern city where ...
It’s not the work of the Gates Foundation. It’s not gonna cure malaria. But as I said earlier about public art, public spaces, it is for the enjoyment and stimulation of the public. I think that is a worthy thing in any environment, in any place.
Do you imagine our populus has gotten too screen oriented, too digital?
I think on the contrary ...
That we need ...
I think the more you’re in an ugly little room like this with microphones.
I love you insulting ...
And buttons to push and things like that ...
I can’t do it outside, Barry.
The more you wanna be outside on the lawn or you wanna see pretty things, you want to be in ... I think that’s life. It’s just like I love travel because life is travel and if there’s life, there’s travel and vice versa. I think the same is true of being able to come upon something that’s unexpected, that gives you pleasure, is part of ...
A physical ...
Right. You would never wanna be replaced by a robot or robotic parts or things like that.
I could not be. It would be ...
That would be a really good episode of Black Mirror.
It would. It would be organ rejection.
Exactly. Last thing I wanna talk about. When we talked recently at your IAC event, you said you were optimistic. I was sort of surprised because you’re very funny. Like one of the funniest things you ever said, you were talking about Hollywood and you said it’s a miracle their children have teeth because they’re so inbred. You always have such a good line about things.
I don’t wanna say you’re cynical but you’re very funny and critical.
Hopefully I am. I’m definitely ...
But you said optimistic, which I never would have linked with you.
I can’t take critical faculty off. I am absolutely optimistic. And my wife, who is European, and Europeans born in the mid century, 20th mid century, are not by nature optimistic.
They had some history.
They have reasons. She says to me what a naive fool I am when I say yes, I am, and I’m going to continue to be.
Diane is like, “The end of the world is nigh!” Right?
True. But I don’t feel that way.
All right. Barry Diller, as usual, you’re a fantastic person to talk to. I’m sure we’ll have many discussions in the future. Thank you for coming on the show.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.