Elon Musk arrived in his Tesla, super-producer Brian Grazer confessed he had no idea where he was going, and Disney CEO Bob Iger cracked wise about the throngs of media camped outside the Sun Valley Lodge.
“What brings you all here?” Iger joked to journalists.
It’s day one at Allen & Co.’s annual conference for moguls, where giants of industry assemble to break bread, play golf, and engage in deal-making. The exclusive event is closed to the media, but a few moguls did take time to field questions from the press.
Dick Costolo, the former Twitter chief who made waves last month by stepping down from the social networking company he helped launch, offered up slightly more than 140 characters when quizzed about his future plans. “I really don’t have any idea what I’m going to do next,” he said. “I want to give myself some time to think.”
Twitter has struggled of late to gin up more ad revenues, but Costolo, who was replaced by Jack Dorsey as interim CEO, expressed confidence in the future of the company. “I’m always bullish on Twitter,” he said.
Cable consolidation is expected to be a major theme of this year’s conference, and one major force in driving that trend, Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus, expressed confidence that his efforts to join forces with another major player will soon bear fruit. In May, his company announced that it had made a $55 billion pact to merge with Charter Communications. A planned union between Time Warner Cable and Comcast fell apart earlier this year over regulatory pressure.
“It’s early days, but so far so good,” said Marcus. “We’re shooting [to be done by] the end of the year, but it’s not in our hands, so we’ll do the best that we can.”
Traditional media companies are feeling pressure to join forces because of the threats they face from new technologies. Consumers expect to access programming across multiple devices at a time and place of their choosing. However, video streaming and other popular services have yet to prove as lucrative as premium cable subscriptions and advertising-supported broadcasting were for many major media companies. In this froth of disruption, quality still rises to the top, media executives said.
“As the world changes and people start consuming content on more platforms, it’s not just how many channels do you have, it’s how good is your content,” said Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav.
To that end, Zaslav touted Discovery’s recent deal for European multiplatform broadcast and distribution rights for four Olympic Games.
He also insisted that he didn’t see advances in technology as his company’s biggest challenge. “It’s not the technology, it’s consumer behavior,” said Zaslav. “Consumers are getting used to consuming content differently and that’s going to be a game changer. It’s going to take a long time for it to change, but the fact that consumers are getting more acclimated to viewing content in their hand or on their phone, there’s no stopping that.”
Beyond a chance to take in the mountain breezes, rock some shorts, and give the power suits a rest, what brings people back year after year to this isolated Idaho ski resort?
“For me it’s a chance to see everybody in one place,” said Iger. “There’s so many people here who we do business with.”
(pictured: Dick Costolo)