Barry Diller's USA Networks has streamlined itself into three distinct yet interrelated business units as a prelude to what many believe will another aggressive round of deal-making on both sides of the Atlantic especially now that this sprawling electronic empire is about to become affiliated with Vivendi Universal.

The three divisions -- representing Entertainment, Information & Services, and Electronic Retailing -- will help USA Networks better digest the 15 companies it has hoovered up over the last five years, explained the company. The re-organisation will also prime Diller for more acquisitions, since it opens up the possibility of further initial public offerings within a group already comprised of several publicly traded subsidiaries.

The USA Networks chairman and chief executive is expected to sit down very shortly with his opposite number at Vivendi, Jean-Marie Messier, and discuss ways in which their grandiose ambitions can be made to mesh. As part of his $34bn merger with Seagram and Canal Plus, Messier will inherit a 43% stake in USA, an operation he considers one of his most prized assets, particularly with Diller at the helm. "I'm ready to hear [Diller's] projects and see how best we can support them," Messier said at the Paris press conference last week.

On the immediate agenda is international distribution for both the Sci-Fi Channel and the Home Shopping Network, both of which could be offered to Canal Plus' 13m European subscribers, and perhaps eventually across Rupert Murdoch's Sky Global Networks should Messier succeed in folding his BSkyB stake into this huge satellite distribution nexus. Another obvious tie-up would see Diller's on-line ticket information and ordering services to be rolled out as part of Vivendi's Vizzavi Internet portal.

Also bound to be discussed is whether Diller should re-ignite talks to buy or merge with NBC, the US broadcast and cable network owned by the General Electric Co. Diller has tried to lay his hands on NBC at least twice already, although his most recent attempt was thwarted by Seagram's veto power over any large-scale merger proposals.

USA Networks, which enjoyed massive revenues but lost money overall last year because of expansion costs, will be broken down as follows under the new re-grouping:

  • USA Entertainment, a division that will be comprised of Diller's various film, TV and on-line entertainment properties including USA Films and both the USA and Sci-Fi cable channels. Its proforma revenues were $1.4bn last year.
  • USA Electronic Retailing, whose principle business is the Home Shopping Network, also brings in other home shopping channels such as those serving Spanish speakers in the US, the German-language market in Europe, and Japan. This division, whose proforma sales totaled $1.2bn last year, is projecting overseas sales of HSN merchandise to double to $1bn next year.
  • USA Information & Services, a division that includes Ticketmaster,, Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch,, Hotel Reservations Network and Precision Response, a call centre operator. This unit, which USA has targeted as the most likely among the three to be floated, generated $900m in 1999.