SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The black and silver SUVs packed with CEOs started rolling in about noon. Allen & Co.’s annual gathering of media and tech titans at the Sun Valley Lodge resort here brings together several combatants in active industry battles that have observers transfixed.
Will Comcast’s Brian Roberts and Disney’s Bob Iger wind up talking in the halls about their escalating bidding war for Rupert Murdoch‘s 21st Century Fox? Will Shari Redstone and Leslie Moonves, now fighting each other in court over control of CBS Corp., meet on a resort pathway or in a conference session? Several conference attendees admitted privately that the corporate soap operas have been the buzz of the confab in the early going.
Redstone and Moonves arrived at the lodge within an hour or two of each other. The same was true for Roberts and Murdoch. Murdoch pulled in to the circular driveway with his wife, famed model Jerry Hall, and News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson, while Roberts came in with Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh.
Redstone and Moonves managed to just miss each other as both left the resort in the early evening. Redstone walked out of the lodge alongside Michael Eisner and his wife, Jane, around 6 p.m. MST. Ten minutes later, Moonves and his wife, “Big Brother” and “The Talk” host Julie Chen, emerged and drove off (with Moonves at the wheel) in a silver Ford Expedition.
Others spotted in the lodge’s circular driveway Tuesday included investors Haim Saban and Peter Chernin, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, producer Brian Grazer, HBO’s Richard Plepler, Sony’s Kenichiro Yoshida, Kazuo Hirai and Tony Vinciquerra, Snap chairman Michael Lynton, Grupo Televisa’s Emilio Azcarraga Jean, WndrCo.’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, General Motors’ Mary Barra, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Discovery’s David Zaslav, Activision’s Bobby Kotich, Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi, YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki, 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki, Liberty Media’s Greg Maffei, former WPP chief Martin Sorrell, Oath’s Tim Armstrong, Revolution’s Steve Case, former Disney exec Tom Staggs, ex-superagent Michael Ovitz, and former senator Bill Bradley.
Attendees said there’s also a focus on the whiplash effect from the pace of change in the traditional entertainment industry. The enormous pressure brought to bear from streaming upstarts on companies previously seen as showbiz’s version of Too Big to Fail. And yet the torrid growth of Netflix in the past few years has even Disney and Comcast rushing to bulk up and move into the direct-to-consumer model that Netflix refined so well for the on-demand age. The challenge the old guard faces is competing against Wall Street darlings that can plow billions into content because they aren’t expected to churn out big profits, at least not yet.
“Rupert Murdoch can’t just add $2 billion to $3 billion to what he’s going to spend on content,” Discovery’s Zaslav observed in a brief chat with reporters outside the lodge.
Softbank chairman Masayoshi Son put a fine point on the situation when he cheerily told reporters that he was “not interested” in investing in “traditional media.” Softbank had been known to have made overtures to such industry heavyweights as Charter Communications. Son said his focus is on investments in the arenas of AI, cybersecurity, and ride-sharing (after recently taking a big stake in Uber). “I’m optimistic,” Son said. “I see lots of opportunities” for deals.
But Zaslav was almost giddy in stating his view that the Disney vs. Comcast bout over Fox is only good for content companies with large international footprints. Of which Discovery is definitely one, he emphasized. The marketplace coupled with the AT&T-Time Warner decision indicating that regulators will take a “light touch” on media consolidation is setting the stage for deals, although he was reserved when pressed on whether Discovery is a buyer or a seller.
“Everybody’s going to be looking,” Zaslav said. “There’s real opportunity now particularly with the multiples being paid.” Given the conference setting, and the fact that Discovery stock has been in a long slump, Zaslav couldn’t help but add: “I think the Street is probably going to take another look at us. We’ve been aggregating IP globally for a long time. The higher that price (for Fox) goes, the more we think we’re undervalued.”
(Pictured: Shari Redstone)