Hulu, Sony, IMG deals on minds

Hulu, Sony, IMG among big M&A deals on execs' minds at this year's Herb Allen conference

While some of the country’s biggest media executives decide which tennis shorts to pack, the rest of the world is left speculating about the deals they may stir up at this year’s Allen & Co. conference. The annual summer camp for moguls kicks off Tuesday for five days in Sun Valley, Idaho, with a guest list that includes Sony Corp.’s Kazuo Hirai, Legendary’s Thomas Tull and Liberty Media’s John Malone. The conference is generally seen as a time for power brokers to relax, schmooze and hear presentations by captains of industry. Here are five potential deals they’re likely to be talking about.

1. What will John Malone buy next?

The Liberty Media chairman (pictured above, right) bought a stake in Charter Communications earlier this year, and observers don’t expect him to stop there. Malone has expressed interest in Time Warner Cable with a desire to broaden his cable media empire.  He’ll get a chance to chat it up with Sun Valley guests TW Cable’s Glenn Britt and Robert Marcus. With rumblings of other cable assets coming on the block, the broader consolidation of the cable industry is also sure to be a hot topic of discussion. Top execs on the guest list also include Time Warner honcho Jeff Bewkes, NBCUni’s Steve Burke, CBS’ Leslie Moonves, Discovery’s John Hendricks and Scripps’ Kenneth Lowe.

2. Who will acquire Hulu?

A second round of bidding for the streaming site will complete in the next week or two, and several of Hulu’s past and present suitors will be in Sun Valley. Peter Chernin and Direct TV’s Michael White could do some last-minute pitching to execs from Hulu owners Disney, Comcast and News Corp. Yahoo! president and CEO Marissa Mayer, whose name was conspicuously absent from the guest list of media bigwigs, apparently won’t be around to make anything awkward. But, then again, Yahoo, an early bidder for Hulu, has since pulled out of the auction.

3. Sony sale speculation

Hirai and Sony Pictures Entertainment chief Lynton just can’t shake rumors of a Sony sale ever since activist investor Daniel Loeb, who runs hedge fund Third Point Capital (which owns a 7% stake in Sony Corp) has publicly urged the Japanese electronics giant to spin off its entertainment assets into its own publicly listed entity in the U.S. That tactic could bring Sony one step closer to an acquisition, since IPOs often drum up interest from potential buyers. Lynton and Hirai have both adamently denied that a sale is in the works, and they’ll be able to tell potential suitors that in person this week. Moonves, for example, told the Wall Street Journal last year that he’d consider buying Sony if it became available.

4. IMG

Even in its early stages, the sales process for the global sports giant has already attracted a number of heavy-hitting suitors. Reps for IMG aren’t on this year’s guest list, but execs from potential buyers are: CAA’s Bryan Lourd may pop by the conference, along with Casey Wasserman. CAA is currently working with UBS and LionTree to prep a bid for IMG, which could give CAA the scale to go public should its private equity backer TPG want to make that happen. And while Wasserman has not commented on his potential interest, many observers see his Wasserman Group as a strong candidate, given the obvious synergies between IMG and the sports marketing agency.

5. Legendary about to hitch a new studio partner

Poised to leave Warner Bros., Legendary topper Thomas Tull will be rubbing elbows this week with executives from suitor studios Universal,  20th Century Fox and Sony. Tull is expected to shortly announce a deal with Universal unless something goes haywire and Fox, which appears to be in second position, lands the production shingle. The conference could be an 11th-hour opportunity to sweeten any deal. Both Burke and Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer are expected, as are News Corp. honcho Rupert Murdoch and Fox Filmed Entertainment head Jim Gianopulos and  Sony’s Hirai and Lynton. Things could get awkward when Time Warner’s Bewkes shows up, but at least former Warner Bros. studio executive Jeff Robinov, with whom Tull sparred, wasn’t on the guest list.

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