USA Networks yesterday agreed to buy a controlling stake in Microsoft-owned online travel booking business Expedia for $1.5 billion.

The media group is to purchase a 70% holding from Microsoft plus a further 5% from other shareholders, gaining in the process 90% of Expedia’s voting shares. USA Networks high-profile owner Barry Diller will become the online firm’s chairman, while Richard Barton will stay on as chief executive.

Although yet to make a profit, Expedia has proved a relative success in the beleaguered dotcom sector, with sales of $336 million last year.

USA Networks plans to launch a dedicated TV station, titled USA Travel Channel, later this year in order to differentiate itself from other online travel services. The Expedia purchase – as well as the acquisition of vacation package agency National Leisure Group, also announced yesterday – makes the media group the world’s biggest interactive travel company, with gross yearly bookings of $4bn.

News sources: The Times (London); Financial Times