Media barons and elite investors are charting a course for Sun Valley, Idaho, July 11 for Allen & Co.’s annual mountainside summit. Dubbed “summer camp for billionaires,” the invitation-only event is an opportunity for the 1% to talk shop and rap about the state of global business, while ditching their power suits for a uniform of blue jeans and fleece vests.
The highly secretive event is a destination for moguls such as 21st Century Fox chief Rupert Murdoch, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon czar Jeff Bezos, who flock to the alpine resort to hear from leading government officials and fellow bigwigs about issues ranging from urban poverty to the Islamic State. But the real action takes place in between the panels, over drinks, meals and long walks along the trails that encircle the Sun Valley Lodge. That’s when the various CEOs, bankers and entrepreneurs play Let’s Make a Deal.
The gathering has an impressive lineage. Sun Valley has been the site of many corporate marriages over the years, from Comcast’s bid for NBCUniversal to Disney’s play for ABC-Capital Cities. And then there’s the less fortunate deal making: Time Warner’s nearly disastrous union with AOL was forged at the conference. It’s impossible to know which Hollywood players or Silicon Valley juggernauts might decide to tie the knot this time. But here are the power players to watch.
Bob Bakish & Shari Redstone
This year’s conference will be a victory lap for Redstone, who prevailed against Philippe Dauman in a corporate battle for control of Viacom. Bakish, the man who replaced Dauman as CEO of the media company, will be at his boss’s side. Their task will be to convince their fellow captains of industry that Viacom, which has seen its share price crater in recent years as its film studio Paramount and cable networks have floundered, is back. Nothing says you’re in growth mode like a splashy acquisition.
Jeff Bewkes & Randall Stephenson
(Time Warner; AT&T)
Both Bewkes and Stephenson will be fielding questions from the press scrum about the state of AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner, an $85 billion deal that’s still awaiting government approval. CNN, the cable news channel that makes up part of Time Warner’s portfolio of media properties, has earned the ire of President Donald Trump with its aggressive coverage. Might the White House try to gum up the works and kill the pact? The answer may lie in Trump’s Twitter feed.
Like AT&T, Verizon has gotten into the content game, shelling out billions to snap up AOL and Yahoo. Now that its main telecom competitor is buying a film and television studio, will Verizon feel a need to follow suit? A controversial New York Post report speculated that Lowell McAdam might make a bid for Disney. Such a deal would leave Verizon heavily leveraged but would also give it access to an arsenal of brands that includes Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars. Is it worth the risk? What would Bob Iger say?
The former DreamWorks Animation chief cashed in, selling his studio to Comcast for a crisp $3.8 billion. Now he’s got money to spend and access to a lot of media mavens with ideas about how he can start writing checks. Look for Katzenberg to make some waves with his new investment fund, either by lining up big-name backers or by partnering on media ventures. Retirement doesn’t suit him.
The Silicon Valley investor’s profile has never been higher. His support for Donald Trump earned him a speaking slot at last year’s Republican National Convention. Due to his close ties to the administration, moguls will be seeking him out for advice about how to navigate the current regulatory environment. Thiel is also the subject of the scathing documentary “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press,” which examines his role in destroying Gawker by backing Hulk Hogan’s suit against the website. The film holds Thiel up as a mortal danger to press freedom. Netflix is distributing “Nobody Speak,” which could make for some awkward encounters in the buffet line with the streaming giant’s CEO, Reed Hastings, and chief creative officer, Ted Sarandos.
Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch & James Murdoch
(21st Century Fox)
The Murdoch clan may be feeling the heat. AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner and Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal have left Fox looking up in a world in which film and television companies are just a small part of sprawling telecom leviathans. Fox is betting that its bid to obtain full control of European pay TV behemoth Sky will help even the playing field. If it doesn’t, it may be time to go shopping or consider putting up a “For Sale” sign. In a world of steroidal conglomerates, size matters.