Next stop for Baker is USA Networks

Former Sinclair boss to be president under Barry Diller

Broadcasting

February 19, 1999|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Talk about landing on your feet. Just last week, Barry Baker issued a surprise resignation from Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. of Baltimore, where he headed day-to-day radio and television operations. At the time, Baker, 46, said only that he wanted to pursue new business opportunities.

Yesterday, USA Networks Inc., the aggressive television and electronic-commerce company headed by broadcast mogul Barry Diller, announced that it has named Baker as its new president and chief operating officer.

Baker will report to Diller, USA's chairman and chief executive officer, and will be based at USA's headquarters in New York. Salary terms were not disclosed.

By signing on with USA, Baker joins a work in dizzying progress. Diller has always had an eye for new, offbeat opportunities; he's the man who made home-shopping networks and Fox Broadcasting Co. into cultural mainstays. Now Diller is among the high-profile media cowboys trying to rope television and Internet holdings together into a lucrative bundle.

In addition to owning cable stations including USA Network and the Sci-Fi Channel, USA holds a controlling interest in TicketMaster Online-City Search Inc., which provides localized cultural news and ticket sales over the Web.

"It's an incredible company," Baker said of USA. He added that his job will be "to make all of the parts of all of these companies work together with maximum efficiency."

At the time of his resignation from Sinclair, which was announced Feb. 9, Baker was the CEO-designate of the company's Sinclair Communications Inc. subsidiary. He is widely seen as one of the architects of Sinclair's rapid growth.

Through an acquisition campaign, Sinclair has grown from obscurity into a major nationwide owner of radio and television stations.

When all pending deals are completed, Sinclair will own or program 65 television stations in 42 markets and 51 radio stations in 10 markets.

It was one of Sinclair's big recent acquisitions that brought Baker to Baltimore. In 1989, Baker, a native New Yorker and Syracuse University alumnus who had held a number of radio and TV station management positions, founded River City Broadcasting LP in St. Louis with $5.5 million in seed money. In 1996, he sold River City to Sinclair for $1.2 billion and joined Sinclair's management.

The relationship between the two Barrys dates back to the 1980s, when Baker was a TV station executive in St. Louis and Diller was trying to assemble a chain of local affiliates for Fox. "We've been bouncing ideas off of each other for a while," Baker said.

The two have more in common than a first name, and those commonalities might help explain why Diller looked to Baltimore's TV Hill for his next president and chief operating officer.

Arthur E. Rockwell, a television industry analyst based in Los Angeles, said Diller is trying to turn USA into a potent national network by focusing on local markets and young viewers.

"His [Diller's] idea is that he can compete with the traditional networks," Rockwell said. During Baker's tenure, Sinclair emerged as a leading example of the growing might of local broadcasters. It has also become one of the largest owners of Fox stations, which teem with youth-oriented programs like "The Simpsons" and "Ally McBeal."

"We're certainly excited for Barry to assume such a great role at USA Networks," said David D. Smith, Sinclair's chairman, president and chief executive officer. "Any time you have an entrepreneur and demonstrated player like Barry at a company like USA, it's a great thing for the industry, because he's a great advocate."

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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