Media moguls, Italian PM head to Sun Valley

Murdochs, Zuckerberg, Iger, Moonves, etc., to talk big picture

The nation’s media elite and, surprise, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti will descend on investment bank Allen & Co.’s summer camp for moguls this week in Sun Valley, Idaho, with recent deals to mull, a few in the works and no shortage of momentous shifts in the showbiz landscape from the likes of Apple TV, Aereo and AutoHop as well as Facebook’s botched IPO.

Seminars and meetings at the mountain retreat alternate with white-water rafting, fly-fishing, tennis and golf as cooler mountain temps should provide welcome relief to scalding heat across much of the country.

Yet industryites and Wall Street think deals could sizzle. Burgeoning digital content companies have started to merge and become targets for bigger players. Fast-growing Alloy Digital acquired Clevver Media last month. Discovery Communications quietly bought Revision3 in May.

And the time may be nigh when big tech players eye media takeovers in earnest. “I always wonder and worry to some degree if an Apple or a Google will make an announcement that could change the ecosystem,” said one Wall Streeter.

A major Internet player “could buy CBS for $21 billion, or Lionsgate for $2 billion-$3 billion and control two of the biggest young adult franchises out there between “Hunger Games” and “Twilight,” he added. Lionsgate has a market cap of $1.95 billion. “If they want to buy Disney, that’s a different story. (But) Apple and Google could buy anything they want.”

Disney has a market cap of $86 billion.

“I always look at the weak links,” or manageable bite-sized acquisitions, said another. “The weak link two years go was Epix. No one liked it. Then it got the Netflix deal. Who are the weak links? They could acquire Epix, Lionsgate, DreamWorks Animation, Starz.” Epix is owned by Lionsgate, Viacom and MGM, Starz by Liberty Media.

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, sons Lachlan and James, COO Chase Carey and CFO Dave DeVoe will hit the annual confab that runs Tuesday to Saturday a few weeks after deciding to spit the $54 billion conglom in two, separating publishing and entertainment. That’s the first major structural transformation by a big media company since Comcast’s deal to buy 50% of NBCUniversal from French conglom Vivendi in 2009 — a pact that was hatched at Sun Valley. This summer, Comcast is about to unload its stake in A&E Networks to partners Walt Disney and Hearst for about $3 billion.

And Vivendi, parent of Universal Music Group, is back in the spotlight amid speculation it could undertake a major revamp after the departure of CEO Jean-Bernard Levy last month. “Figuring out whether Vivendi will be broken up” will be a key takeaway from Sun Valley, said a top music exec planning to attend. UMG is still waiting on regulatory approval for its purchase of EMI.

Vivendi is considering selling its $8 billion-plus majority stake in videogame publisher Activision, whose CEO Bobby Kotick will be at mogul camp. It may, like News Corp., consider splitting up into a telco and a media company.

The Italian press went bonkers last week when Sun Valley, which most reporters had never heard of, appeared on Premier Monti’s official appointment calendar as Italy and much of Europe face a massive economic debacle. The Euro zone disruption affects all companies that do business there including a big swath of U.S. media. Italy is the region’s third largest economy, and the highly respected Monti plays a pivotal role as the crisis unfolds. With the existence of the Euro itself coming under attack, U.S. execs and media investors will be eager for Monti’s insights.

As “The Amazing Spider-Man” spins box office gold, Kazuo Hirai will make a splash as the new CEO of giant Sony Corp. accompanied by Michael Lynton, recently tapped to head U.S. arm Sony Corp. of America. Hirai is tasked with turning around the ailing conglom with some innovative melding of Sony hardware and software.

Top media execs like Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and CFO John Martin, Walt Disney’s Robert Iger, CBS chief exec Leslie Moonves, Viacom’s Philippe Dauman with Paramount topper Brad Grey, Comcast chairman Brian Roberts and Universal Studios topper Ron Meyer, DreamWorks Animation topper Jeffrey Katzenberg and Discovery CEO David Zaslav — many with families in tow — join Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple chief Tim Cook, Google trio Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Twitter CEO Richard Costolo, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg and dozens of others from showbiz, tech and finance.

Liberty’s John Malone is one mogul hoping to clinch a deal soon with a very public push to take over Sirius XM Satellite Broadcasting. Liberty, Sirius’ biggest single shareholder, has been buying up stock to gain uncontested control, to the irritation of Sirius chief Mel Karmazin.

With the presidential election looming, politics will likely be a lively topic. FCC chairman Jules Genachowski is on the list of invitees.

So is Yahoo’s interim CEO Ross Levinsohn as the company’s board looks for candidates for permanent chief executive. The position has been hard to fill after former CEO Carol Bartz was fired last year and Scott Thompson resigned under a cloud last month. Levinsohn is said to be the frontrunner although a number of others have been approached, including Hulu founder and chief Jason Kilar.

A Hulu spokesperson said Friday that Kilar “has graciously declined to be considered.”

Hulu, the online subscription video service jointly owned by Disney, Comcast and News Corp., was a hot topic last year. Hulu and streaming video company Netflix may be the biggest drivers of transformation in the TV business, viewed alternately as threats for siphoning off viewers and open cash registers for networks and content companies. “Affiliate fee trends are fantastic — those deals with Netflix and Amazon,” said one Wall Streeter.

Coin is welcome as traditional revenue streams seem potentially more at risk. “I think that’s an interesting thing that has shaped up. The introduction of Aereo and the lawsuits, that court outcomes, could determine the future of retransmission consent,” said another. Retrans fees have become a major source of revenue for broadcasters. Aereo puts that at risk by transmitting programs without paying.

The ad picture is opaque given a shaky U.S. economy and Europe’s woes. “We expect to see a sequentially weaker quarter. For today, domestic advertising trends are surprisingly resilient but there is an intense focus, more than I have ever seen in the investor community, on ratings. You can’t just count on increased coverage to grow. I’ve never seen so much volatility of stock price around ratings,” said one Wall Streeter.

Satcaster Dish Network’s new AutoHop DVR feature, now being adjudicated, makes it easier than ever for viewers to skip commercials on major networks.

Herb Allen’s Allen & Company has been running the Sun Valley conference since 1983. The venerable firm, started by Charles and Herbert Allen, Sr. in 1922, is a staple of media and entertainment banking with a hand in most all showbiz deals big and small.