IAC president Barry Diller believes the media business cannot afford to make the same mistake twice.
Twenty-five years ago, publishers saw the rise of the Internet and made a fateful choice.
“When the internet started, everything was free. And it was pretty much ordained at the time that everything was free, which is why all the publishers said they really had no other choice,” Diller said, speaking to Semafor co-founder Ben Smith at the Semafor Media Summit in New York on Monday night.
Now, with the rise of generative artificial intelligence, Diller thinks those same companies need to take a different approach.
“The amount of destruction that happened in the beginning when it was declared a free media was enormous,” he said. “And I think today is potentially analogous to that, which is if publishers don’t say you can’t scrape our content, you can’t take it, you can’t take it transformative – to get to the keyword in fair use – you can don’t take it and use it in real time to actually cannibalize everything. And if you think that won’t happen, I think you’re just a fool.”
To hear Diller put it, the media industry has a short window of time to take action before they risk repeating those lessons from the dawn of the Internet age.
“You can do it one of two ways, the industry can come together and say we have enough people on our side to stop it. The other side is more difficult to do, but companies can absolutely sue under copyright law, copyright infringement will net you $150,000 per slug if you can do it,” he added. “The point is publishers are going to get active immediately and absolutely file lawsuits, but also take a massive stance saying, ‘We’re not going to let what happened to free internet happen to post-AI internet if we can help it.'”
Diller, who says OpenAI founder Sam Altman is a “good friend” – “I think he’s likable [to publishers] but I also think he realizes the dragon he’s got, and that what’s about to happen is inevitable” — went on to say the stakes couldn’t be higher.
“It will be up-to-date, real-time. If all the information in the world can be sucked into this maw, and then essentially repackaged into explanatory sentences in what’s called chat but isn’t chat…then there won’t be any publishing, that’s not possible,” Diller added ominously .
As is often the case in interviews like this, Diller also weighed in on a number of other topics, from Succession (he doesn’t watch, but thought the first episode was “funny” but “really stupid”) to the current state of Hollywood, where he agreed with Smith that the Hollywood studios’ leadership was too old and out of touch.
“At best, that kind of editing, that’s what running those companies is, it’s making choices between this movie, or that movie, or this project, or that project…experience isn’t the big help here, because usually your instincts are cynical and corroded over time,” Diller said. “If you want to take risks, and if you don’t want to take risks creatively, you’re not going to have much. I think it’s all gotten too old and too appropriate.”
And he also dismissed the Dominion defamation suit against Fox News because it didn’t particularly affect that company. When asked by Smith how much of a risk the lawsuit posed to Fox, Diller replied “de minimis”.
“I think, I hope they will lose. I think they should lose. And I think [Dominion] can get a very big prize. So what, they’ll pay for it,” Diller added. “What is it going to do? Will it tarnish Rupert Murdoch’s reputation? Good luck.”