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Sun Valley: More Schmoozing Than Dealmaking So Far

SUN VALLEYHaim Saban sat down to chat with News Corp.’s Chase Carey and kicked off his shoes. It was the end of the second day of Allen & Co.’s conference at the Sun Valley Lodge, and Saban (pictured), stretched out in an upholstered chair in front of the Duchin bar, clearly wanted to relax.

Surrounded by fellow moguls, the two men talked for more than 10 minutes, saying “hi” to bigwigs like Comcast’s Brian Roberts and joking with sports magnate Robert Kraft. Disney’s Bob Iger and Activision’s Bobby Kotick wandered through separately after spending close to 20 minutes talking by the resort’s bicycle shop.

But the schmoozing seemed decidedly more pleasure than business, and several conference attendees agreed that Wednesday night was too early for any real dealmaking to be under way. Iger brushed off the idea of a Disney/Activision pair-up, pointing out that he and Kotick had been friends for years.

The lack of serious business is not surprising. Allen & Co.’s guest list is widely seen as a barometer of power amongst media and technology’s elite. The irony, however, is that these top newsmakers tend to spend their days trying to avoid the headlines, as their host frowns upon public statements. There have been exceptions, of course: Disney’s purchase of ABC/Capital Cities reportedly had its roots here, and Google’s Eric Schmidt plans to hold a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Reporters, however, have restricted access to the grounds and are banned from the lodge’s bar after 5 p.m. For the most part, Allen & Co. just wants its moguls to enjoy the scenery and network.

“I’m just sitting down with a lot of folks and asking them how their business is and all that good stuff,” Sony Corp. chief Kazuo Hirai said as he walked leisurely into the Sun Valley Lodge on Thursday. “Just a lot of general talk.”

Things may get a little more heated up Saturday morning after the scheduled New Breed discussion. One of the many panels closed to the press, New Breed centers around identifying emerging companies. The talks centered around an infant YouTube in 2006, when its co-founder and then-CEO Chad Hurley was the belle of the ball. Less than three months later, Google purchased his streaming site for $1.65 billion.

Many of the execs roaming about in shorts and T-shirts have been working on high-profile deals outside of the confab, and speculation abounds about whether any of those discussions will be furthered here in Idaho. Peter Chernin can’t go anywhere without questions about his bid for Hulu, while DirecTV’s Michael White has been avoiding the press entirely.

Hirai has spent months denying that Sony Pictures was up for sale, but that hasn’t stopped potential suitors from approaching. Even so, Hirai said he hasn’t been dealing with that kind of interest at Allen & Co. this year.

“That discussion comes up everywhere,” Hirai said. “It doesn’t have to be in Sun Valley.”

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