Barry Diller Takes On Big Media, Net Neutrality at SXSW

By Kiran Aditham 

Barry Diller, the chairman of IAC, took the stage today with Poppy Harlow from CNN to talk about the future of media. For a man who is no less than a media icon, his perspective is unexpectedly entrepreneurial.

Harlow began the session by asking him about what he’s interested in, and what he would buy now. His response was that everything is too expensive to buy, but what he’s interested in is starting businesses, developing ideas, and growing organically. He doesn’t believe in chasing crowds – counterintuitive in many ways, to the crowd at SXSW.

The Daily Beast, for example, was started by IAC to “bring journalistic process to the rhythm of the internet.”  The recent merger with Newsweek will allow for longer editorial pieces, something he believes still matters. “It’s an experiment,”  he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to work, we’ll see in 6-8 months.”


When asked if he would create content specifically for the Internet, he responded, “Why would you do ‘original content only’ for anything?”

This perhaps explains why he is passionate on the topic of net neutrality.  He believes that not having net neutrality is the only threat to the Internet – “we need an unambiguous law that no one will step between the publisher and the consumer”. This drew applause from the packed ballroom.

The net neutrality debate and media have become more interesting because of video, and video uses a lot of bandwidth. For example, 30% of video traffic comes from Netflix. So how do you charge users appropriately? Diller’s concern is that if big media companies own pieces of the bandwidth pipeline, it will land us in the same situation we find ourselves in today – in the hands of the few and not in the hands of the people.

“We are in the very early stages of a revolution,” Diller said. To bring home his point, he stated that 30 million homes are connected to the Internet, a number that will only increase in the next 3-5 years. If you are a content creator and can get people to watch, you should have ownership of what you create.

Closing the session, Harlow asked him what advice he would give entrepreneurs. His advice was simple: Get enough money, give away as little as possible, keep your head down, do not listen or talk to anybody – except listen to your audience when it makes sense. He warned that early feedback can often be off base. Stay on the path.

And if you fail?

“The best part is, you can start all over again.”

Kirsten Cluthe is a consultant with The Frontier Project and a mediabistro contributor.