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Sun Valley: Verizon Chief Shoots Down Disney Purchase Reports

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam didn’t mince words when asked if the telecom giant will buy Disney.

“No,” was his blunt response when peppered with questions on Tuesday at Allen & Co.’s annual media and technology summit in Sun Valley, Idaho.

The gathering of one-percenters is closely scrutinized, because in the past it has been the locus of mergers between the likes of Disney and ABC/Capital Cities and Comcast and NBCUniversal. This year, even if McAdam wanted a dance partner for a deal, he’d be out of luck. Disney chief Bob Iger is not making the trek to Idaho. A possible Disney sale to Verizon was recently floated by the New York Post.

McAdam didn’t even bother to walk over to the press. He gave a one-word answer and kept moving.

It was a busy afternoon outside the Sun Valley Lodge, as moguls and captains of industry checked in to the exclusive resort, hoping to hatch deals, network and learn about the latest industry trends while taking in the tranquil mountain air. Sponsored by Allen & Co., an investment bank with ties to Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the conference brings together some of the world’s most powerful business executives in movies, television, technology, sports, and other ventures for what’s essentially a summer camp for billionaires.

Here, executives like Discovery’s David Zaslav and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner leave the bespoke suits at home in favor of jeans and cross trainers as they hike, bike, and horseback ride around the surrounding foothills. Some bring their families.

Shari Redstone, Vice Chair of CBS Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, USA - 11 Jul 2017 (Rex Features via AP Images)
Viacom’s Shari Redstone

The media barons and tech overlords are still arriving in SUVs, but Viacom vice-chair Shari Redstone, Warren Buffett, OpenAI co-chairman Sam Altman, NBCUniversal vice-chairman Ron Meyer, CBS chief Les Moonves, producer Brian Grazer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Patriots owner Bob Kraft were among the earlier arrivals.

It’s not a press-friendly affair. Reporters are kept at bay during the private function, shouting questions or pleading for a few minutes with executives and others who pulled up to the lodge’s entrance. Security has risen considerably in recent years. Reporters once could enter the lodge and strike up conversations with executives over a drink.

Security fencing withstanding, some conference invitees answered questions as they arrived about what they expect to see emerge from the annual retreat.

Eisner offered a short prediction on the potential a merger is birthed this week: “Out of here? I don’t know. Probably nothing,” adding a deal could be announced “eventually.”

The invite list included executives such as Ted Sarandos and Jeff Bezos from digital disruptors like Netflix and Amazon who have wrought a wave of consolidation as distributors try to stave off the new competitors.

“There’s no question that people are consuming content off the TV platform, but the good news is people are consuming more content,” Zaslav said. “The challenge for all of us is to figure out which is the great content that people are going to want on all platforms.”

Zaslav said the mission for his company will be “to figure out how to get more of our content and have a bigger market share on each of those platforms.”

David Kenny, general manager of IBM’s Watson, said he hoped to talk about and find more ways to use artificial intelligence (AI) in fields such as medicine, law and accounting. For instance, tax-preparer H&R Block partnered with the company to improve how people file their taxes. He thinks folks in Hollywood and Silicon Valley will be interested in what he’s selling.

“I expect to have a lot of conversations about what AI means for the media experience,” said Kenny.

 

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