Sun Valley, the annual confab of business titans, kicked off on Tuesday. The gathering is a chance for the true masters of the media and technology universe to kick back, relax, hear lectures from thought leaders, and, most importantly, lay some groundwork for mega mergers to come. Held in a posh Idaho resort, the conference has inspired several major corporate marriages over the year, including Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal and Time Warner’s disastrous wedding to AOL.
Hosted by Allen & Co., Sun Valley has come to be known as “summer camp for billionaires” because it’s a rare opportunity to see the Per Se set break out the casual clothing and get their mountain biking on. It’s also a chance to observe several key figures who are playing a key role in the current wave of media consolidation, such as 21st Century Fox chief Rupert Murdoch and Disney guru Bob Iger, and to try to parse their moves for signs of what the future holds for the entertainment space. Here are the business moguls from Hollywood and Silicon Valley that we’ll be keeping an eye on as the week unfolds.
5 ENTERTAINMENT MOGULS TO WATCH
The controlling shareholder of Viacom and CBS is the most powerful woman in media and had designs on putting her family empire back together under one roof; but CBS had other ideas. Redstone’s every move will be studied this week for clues to her future plans, and whether they include a way to avoid a court battle with fellow Sun Valley attendee Leslie Moonves.
Will the Comcast chief up the ante for 21st Century Fox again? It appears as though Disney still has Fox in its clutches after Comcast topped Disney’s original offer. But the fiercely competitive Roberts hates to lose. Will he put the hard sell on the Murdoch boys by the Sun Valley duck pond?
The Disney CEO appears to be sitting pretty with Fox’s board inclined to sell him the rights to much of its film and television assets. But Iger will have to figure out how to integrate the likes of 20th Century Fox, FX Networks, National Geographic Partners and other assets into the Magic Kingdom in order to justify the $71.3 billion purchase price. For good measure, he’s also trying to launch Disney’s “Netflix Killer” streaming service.
The octogenarian Fox mogul is in the catbird seat with Disney and Comcast fighting over his Hollywood crown jewels. But he’ll need to show he’s still in command after months of reports about health issues. And with the sale looming, Murdoch and his son Lachlan will need to turn their focus to the launch of New Fox, figuring out how these traditional television brands compete in a digital world.
The CBS chief is locked in a legal battle against Shari Redstone for control of the television giant. If he loses, Moonves could be out of a job. That makes him a very valuable commodity, which means the Sun Valley crowd will be eager to hear his thoughts about potential next moves. They may even offer him backing or a perch to prove that success is the best revenge.
5 TECH MOGULS TO WATCH
The Facebook founder is trying to convince people it’s a good idea to give up their personal information in return for having that data sold to advertisers. The socially awkward mogul has been badly bruised by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. He comes to Sun Valley in a far weaker position than he did a year ago.
The Netflix chief has to deal with Disney’s new streaming service and other imitators, such as Amazon Prime, which are busy trying to horn in on online video business. The company’s stock continues to trade at nearly $400 a share and its subscriber rolls are still swelling, but questions remain about its debt load. Can Netflix keep paying top dollar for programming?
Apple’s content guru will surely be peppered with questions about the company’s growing ambition in video. Apple hasn’t fully explained how the device-maker plans to distribute, let alone make a profit from, its growing roster of original TV series. The company has signed a slew of splashy deals with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, but nobody’s quite sure how or when these shows will see the light of day.
The head of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has to be worried the big data backlash at Facebook will spill over to Google and other tech players, imperiling the way they rack up big profits. Page’s nightmare figures to be the specter of government regulation.
The Amazon topper is looking for his “Game of Thrones” now that he has engineered an overhaul of the Amazon Studios operation under the direction of Jennifer Salke. Sun Valley attendees will be curious about his appetite for buying his way to market share in entertainment with the traditional media giants that are now in play.