SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Taking in the sun and having some outdoorsy fun was top of the agenda as dozens of media and tech leaders converged Tuesday for the start of the annual Allen & Co. conference.
The mood was decidedly chill this year as the silver SUVs began dropping off moguls and CEOs at Sun Valley Lodge in the early afternoon. Shari Redstone, vice chair of CBS and Viacom, commented on the “gorgeous day” as she made her way in to the lodge. If the long-gestating merger talks between CBS and Viacom are starting to come to head, as is rumored, Redstone’s wide smile didn’t show any signs of boardroom strain.
Comcast chairman-CEO Brian Roberts said he was happy just to “enjoy the sun” this year. That’s a marked contrast from last year when Comcast and Disney were in the thick of a bidding war for 21st Century Fox (which is now Team Disney) and Sky (now Team Comcast) during the Allen & Co. confab. James Murdoch, the former 21st Century Fox CEO who is now said to be looking to invest in media companies, rocked a pair of white sunglasses as he strolled the grounds. ICM Partners chief Chris Silbermann worked up a sweat on a bike ride with his son.
Once the arrivals were in full swing, people-watching around the resort’s Alpine village setting was intriguing, to say the least. Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg was palling around with Marne Levine, Facebook’s VP of global partnerships, business and corporate development. Later, inside the resort’s Konditorei cafe, Sandberg and Activision’s Bobby Kotick were deep in conversation. Spotify chief Daniel Ek and Spotify CFO Barry McCarthy were doing the same, but outside on the patio.
Others spotted on day one of the gathering included Snap’s Evan Spiegel and Michael Lynton, Imagine’s Brian Grazer, News Corp.’s Robert Thomson, investors Vivi Nevo and Haim Saban, NBCUniversal’s Ron Meyer, former Disney boss Michael Eisner, General Motors chief Mary Barra, CBS Interactive’s Jim Lanzone, Coca-Cola chairman-CEO James Quincey, Palantir Technologies’ Alex Karp, Zynga’s Mark Pincus and restaurateur and milkshake mogul Danny Meyer.
One of the marquee speakers lined up for the high-wattage business crowd this week is said to be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. No doubt the question of tariffs and trade policy will be a hot topic for the CEOs who have to navigate the real-world implications of President Trump’s decisions.
The art of storytelling is also expected to be a theme of the conference this year. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said he was eager to hear from perspectives on the content marketplace from those in the FAANG sphere.
“I’m interested to get a better understanding of how they see IP and where they’re spending their time,” Zaslav told Variety. “They have the most compelling platforms. They can take content everywhere in the world at one time in any language.”
Former CAA titan Michael Ovitz took a moment upon arriving at Sun Valley with his financee, designer Tamara Mellon, to reflect on current events in his old business.
“A deep mess” is how he described the battle raging between Hollywood’s largest talent agencies and the Writers Guild of America. “I have no idea why it got to this point,” he said.
Although Ovitz is nearly 25 years removed from his days of ruling CAA, the thought of enduring an exodus of hundreds of writer clients inside of a few days seemed to genuinely pain him.
“Writers were the core of our business,” he said. “I would have been apoplectic.”
(Pictured: Shari Redstone arriving Tuesday at Sun Valley Lodge for the Allen & Co. conference)
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that Lachlan Murdoch attended the conference on Tuesday.