Skydance-Paramount merger is reportedly back on after Barry Diller expresses interest

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Roughly 50 years ago, Barry Diller was head of Paramount Pictures. A little more than 30 years ago, he tried to purchase the company, only to be outbid by media mogul Sumner Redstone. And on Tuesday, it appeared that Diller might be prepared to buy Paramount Global from his onetime rival’s daughter, Shari, who controls the company.

Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Diller was exploring a bid for Paramount, signing a nondisclosure agreement with Shari Redstone’s National Amusements, which is the company’s largest shareholder. Today, however, the publication reported that Redstone’s National Amusements had reached a tentative deal with Skydance to acquire Paramount. The deal reportedly still requires approval by a special committee of Paramount’s board of directors. The parameters of the agreement are still unclear, but The Times reports that Skydance’s offer for National Amusements is $1.75 billion.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Paramount was in talks to sell Black Entertainment Television to a group of buyers who include BET CEO Scott Mills for $1.6 billion. That’s a markdown from the $2 billion it was asking of the same group last year. 

IAC, where Diller is chairman and a senior executive, told Fast Company it does not comment on rumors or speculation. Paramount did not respond to a request for comment.

Today’s news is the latest in a long-running and winding saga over control of Paramount. Just last month, it appeared that David Ellison’s Skydance Media was set to take over the studio, but that deal seemingly fell apart when Redstone ended talks.

The Times said it was unclear just how far the talks between Diller’s IAC and National Amusements had gotten. Apparently, he wasn’t the only suitor these days either. The paper reports that both media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. (former CEO of Warner Music Group) and Steven Paul, producer of the Baby Geniuses and Ghost Rider franchises, have shown interest.

It’s also unclear what direction Diller would have taken Paramount had the deal gone through. Last year, he made headlines by encouraging studios to “reorient” their business or face “catastrophic” consequences.  

Diller has a long history with Paramount. In 1974, he was put in charge of the studio and has been credited with energizing it. Among the people he brought on board were Michael Eisner, who would go on to run Disney, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who cofounded DreamWorks Animation. In the ’90s, Diller led an attempt to gain control of Paramount, but the elder Redstone outbid him. Sumner Redstone died in 2020, leaving his daughter, Shari, in charge of National Amusements.

Among other media properties, Diller’s IAC owns magazine publishers Dotdash Meredith, the Daily Beast, and Ask Media Group, as well as home service platform Angi. He personally serves on the boards of the Coca-Cola Co. and MGM Resorts International.

Paramount is primed for a deal. In April, the company’s board announced the departure of CEO Bob Bakish, who was stringently opposed to a deal with Skydance. Paramount Pictures CEO Brian Robbins, CBS CEO George Cheeks, and MTV Entertainment Group CEO Chris McCarthy all assumed elements of the chief executive position afterward as part of a leadership committee.

Redstone has seemed ready to sell but has embraced the moves by that leadership committee. In May, LightShed Partners analysts Rich Greenfield, Brandon Ross, and Mark Kelley said in a blog post that they expected Paramount “to go it alone.”

Efforts to sell the company have not gone smoothly. Warner Bros. Discovery was widely expected to purchase Paramount at the start of the year, but paused negotiations in late February, effectively dropping out of the race.

In April, Skydance became the leading candidate, but that deal fell apart in June—which opened things up for a nonbinding $26 billion offer from Sony and Apollo Global Management, but Paramount never showed serious interest in that offer.

Media entrepreneur Byron Allen has also reportedly expressed interest, making a $14.3 billion offer in late January, though he has not named any coinvestors, and that offer has not been discussed since May.

Update, July 2, 2024: This article has been updated with the news of a tentative Skydance-Paramount merger agreement.



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