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Sun Valley Scene: Media, Tech Titans Mix and Mingle in the Mountains

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Say what you will about the times changing for the entertainment business, some things never do.

The annual Allen & Co. getaway for media and tech moguls at the Sun Valley resort is still the only place you’ll find yourself sitting in an outdoor cafe, deep into a breezy conversation with a C-suite executive when all of a sudden Barry Diller rolls by on a bicycle.

The sizzle around the mogul summer camp hosted by the investment bank is the promise of M&A fission sparked by bringing several hundred movers and shakers together in a bucolic, high-altitude (about 6,000 feet) setting.

The event, now in its 36th year, has been described as a TED Talk writ large, with extraordinary networking and people-watching opportunities thrown in, not to mention recreational outings that take advantage of Idaho’s stunning Sawtooth National Forest and environs.

“You get stimulated. You can’t help yourself,” Diller said of the conference. “So even if you’re a little gaga from time zone changes, this will zap you.”

Diller seemed to be in a wistful mood as he entered the conference sessions early Wednesday. When asked for his thoughts on Disney’s historic acquisition of 21st Century Fox, the former head of 20th Century Fox was candid: “I think it’s sad. Fox was in my life for 10 years. We built the network and it was wonderful. I hate to see it disappear, which I’m afraid it will.”

Shari Redstone echoed Diller’s enthusiasm for the conference and its programming, which ranged from a Q&A with legendary investor John Malone and Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone to a session on the Brexit situation to updates on post-IPO Uber from CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and pre-IPO AirBNB from CEO Brian Chesky. Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper also made the rounds.

On Wednesday afternoon, attendees were buzzing about the Malone/Langone Q&A. “It’s always great to hear from guys who are old enough and rich enough to say whatever they want. They don’t care about pissing people off,” said one conference-goer. With Amazon chief Jeff Bezos and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg in the room, Malone was said to have offered praise for the global platforms built by the FAANG giants.

Redstone, meanwhile, kept mum when asked by reporters about the state of merger talks between the two halves of her family media empire, CBS Corp. and Viacom. But she did chat a bit about her investments through her Advancit Capital banner. She’s very interested in the podcast realm these days and is happy to be a backer of Hernan Lopez’s buzzy podcast network Wondery.

Disney chief Bob Iger arrived in Sun Valley early Wednesday, fresh off of Tuesday’s spectacular premiere for “The Lion King.” His enthusiasm for the cutting-edge A.I. technology used in the movie was palpable. He credited director Jon Favreau with creating something “extremely brilliant.” Iger’s accomplishments of the past year were noted with admiration by many of his CEO peers — and the chatter continues about who might succeed him as Disney boss if he stays on track to step down in 2021.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took a moment to speak to Variety about the next round of TV rights negotiations coming for the deals that are set to expire in 2022.

“We like the reach model,” he said when asked if the league still favored broadcast distribution for its gridiron activities. But he added that working with Amazon on “Thursday Night Football” games has been enlightening about how to reach different consumers via streaming.

One dark cloud that surfaced amid the clusters of investment bankers and high-finance types was the horrific allegations of sexual abuse of children emerging after the arrest of former money manager Jeffrey Epstein in New York on Sunday. The news was inescapable, even here. “Disgusting,” said one attendee, voicing the sentiments of many.

CNN commentator and social justice activist Van Jones is among the speakers set for Friday. No doubt he will find a receptive audience for his message about the importance of ensuring that all Americans, regardless of race or social status, receive equal treatment under the law.

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