Diane von Fürstenberg hawked Google Glass, CBS chief Les Moonves said “The Good Wife” was “robbed” of an Emmy nomination and Disney head Bob Iger poked good-natured fun at the media’s obsession with mergers and deal-making.
It was just a typical day at Allen & Co.’s annual media and technology conference. Nestled in Sun Valley, Idaho, it’s a high-octane gathering of, as one journalist joked, “100% of the 1%.”
Guests this year include 21st Century Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Comcast chairman Brian Roberts, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, AT&T chairman Randall Stephenson, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
The temperatures topped 80 degrees and the sun beat down on guests and journalists alike, but so far the market for deals has been on slow-burn.
Asked if there were any stories coming out of the closed-door meetings this year, Iger joked, “I’ve got nothing … my iPad.”
Guests Thursday watched Tom Brokaw grill retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal about universal civilian service and CNN’s Erin Burnett moderate a panel on education reform that included Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Kaya Henderson and Success Academy Charter School founder Eva Moskowitz.
There was also an energetic discussion about creativity that brought “Murphy Brown” star Candice Bergen, the Weinstein Co. co-chairman Harvey Weinstein and Imagine Entertainment co-founder Brian Grazer to the stage.
Grazer’s message was a hopeful one, he told Variety.
“Creativity lives inside of all of us, we just need people to help nurture it,” said Grazer. “It just takes encouragement to find that in people and you look at all the different platforms on television, or whether it’s digital, and great things are occurring that wouldn’t normally have existed.”
Because such megawatt mergers as NBCUniversal and Comcast have their origins in Sun Valley, the emphasis is always on unearthing the next markets-shaking pact. But attendees say the value of this kind of gathering is less sexy, but just as vital.
“In terms of specific opportunities it’s overstressed [by the media], but from a relationship standpoint that’s probably underrated,” said Ben Horowitz, co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. “There’s just so many great people,” he added, noting it’s his sixth year attending. “There’s not a person here who’s not super interesting.”
That kind of relationship building is what led to von Fürstenberg’s entry into the wearable technology market. The fashion icon has created a Google Glass line that comes in an array of colors such as shiny elderberry or matte java. They sell for $1,800 a pop.
The idea was developed after von Fürstenberg saw Google co-founder Sergey Brin sporting the eyewear at the Allen & Co. gathering two years ago.
“It’s just a marriage of fashion and technology,” she said.
She also addressed concerns that people’s personal data could be compromised by the high-tech spectacles, but it’s not an issue for the designer.
“I have no problem with my privacy,” she said.
For the most part, journalists at the conference are treated with benign neglect and relegated to a few cramped parts of the Sun Valley Lodge’s sprawling grounds. There have been complaints this year that a tightly guarded gathering has become more vigorously policed than years past.
Part of that tension boiled over Thursday morning when Fox Business News correspondent Charlie Gasparino got in a heated argument with a security guard leading to his ouster from the grounds. He was later spotted doing a standup on the road leading to neighboring Ketchum.
The moguls who spend much of their days in Idaho biking, hiking and whitewater-rafting appeared zen-like. The reporters, not so much.