Malone: Barry Diller 'got tired' of board conflict

Says 'it was his call' to step down as Live Nation chairman

NEW YORK - Barry Diller's decision to step down as chairman of Live Nation can be blamed on his getting sucked into discussions about competing interests of different parts of the business, John Malone, chairman of Live Nation investor Liberty Media said here Friday.

"The chairman of the board of that company is just like any other director, he is just a lead," Malone told The Hollywood Reporter on the sidelines of his company's annual investor and analyst meeting. "He was dragged into conflicts and got tired of it."

Asked if anyone pushed Diller out, Malone said: "It was his call."

The Hollywood Reporter exclusively reported Thursday that tensions had been growing between Diller and Malone as the company's stock price dropped, and Malone grew frustrated with Diller putting his wife, Diane von Furstenberg, on the board, and spending so much money on a splashy Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in New York City.

But Diller told THR that his relationship with Malone was "wholly positive," and Malone concurred Friday.

Said Malone: "Barry believed that we need a chairman who is away from the conflict between those three parts of the business that merged to form the current company - ticket seller Ticketmaster, concert promoter Live Nation and management company, Front Line."

The relationship between Diller and Liberty is "good and totally healed," Malone told investors.

"He didn't want to do it forever," he said about Diller and the Live Nation chairman post. "He knew there would be conflict between those three powerful groups."

"But the premise of the merger is very powerful" and the opportunity is "large." His conclusion: "Ultimately, the business will benefit greatly."

The company's 14-person board is made up of equal members of people who came from Live Nation and Ticketmaster. Diller remains on the board and continues to hold his shares in the firm.

THR reported that Diller's relationship with Liberty CEO Greg Maffei is the most contentious. When asked to respond Friday, Maffei danced around the question by downplaying his interactions with Diller: "I'm not on that board...John [Malone] deals with him primarily."

In an investor Q&A session later, Maffei was asked to detail which Liberty holdings are worth holding for the long-term. He said that Liberty will keep an eye on whether Live Nation falls into this category.

Live Nation will pick a new chairman by December, Malone and Live Nation executive chairman Irving Azoff told reporters.

Azoff opened a presentation at the Liberty investor day here Friday with a joke about the attention that this week's board meeting has attracted, but without providing details.

"Hollywood's a place full of characters," he said. "Some are bloggers, some are journalists, and most of them are on our board."

He later told reporters that he feels that the different parts of the merged Live Nation have come together well, but that Diller had always said he would serve as chairman only for a while. Malone echoed that this had been the expectation. Azoff said suggestions of board conflict were "overblown."

During his Liberty investor presentation, Azoff said consumer spending still looks weak through the rest of the year, meaning trends are "challenging" for his and other companies.

But he also touted Live Nation's business strategies and strong music industry position.

He told investors that Live Nation is looking to become the of the music business and increasingly upsell consumers on additional products.

He expressed surprise and pride that the company's Ticketmaster is the number three e-commerce site in world behind Amazon and Staples.