After upending the media landscape with his deal to combine Discovery with WarnerMedia, David Zaslav will touch down in Sun Valley, Idaho this July for Allen & Co.’s annual media conference.
The Discovery chief could be joined at the annual confab of power brokers and media barons by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, fresh off his $8.5 billion deal to purchase Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. They will hit the posh resort at a time when many analysts and insiders believe that Hollywood and Silicon Valley are in the midst of an unprecedented period of consolidation.
If more mergers and acquisitions are on the horizon, they may be hatched at Sun Valley, which in the past has been the locus of such mega-pacts as Comcast’s purchase of NBC/Universal, the Washington Post’s sale to Bezos and Disney’s deal for Capital Cities/ABC. Sun Valley also played matchmaker for AOL and Time Warner’s unhappy union, which, until AT&T’s short-lived ownership of WarnerMedia, was far-and-away the worst thing that ever happened to the company that brothers Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack Warner founded in 1923 (it probably still is, but at least it now has a rival in the AT&T merger).
Last year, Allen & Co., the investment bank behind the gathering, put the event on COVID-related hiatus, but it’s back on in 2021 and should occur right after the July 4th holiday. The informal setting and preponderance of casual wear has led some to dub the week-long event “summer camp for moguls.”
The guest list for Sun Valley is once again overflowing with bold faced names with the cash and egos to spur a fresh wave of M&A. There’s Apple’s Tim Cook, Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, Walt Disney CEO Bob Chapek, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos and Reid Hastings, Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida and Comcast’s Brian Roberts. They’re joined in the dealmakers club by Liberty Global Chairman John Malone and top lieutenants Mike Fries and Greg Maffei, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, CAA’s Bryan Lourd, ICM’s Chris Silbermann, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, ViacomCBS’s Shari Redstone and Viking Global Investors’ Andreas Halvorsen. Also making the cut is Jason Kilar, the WarnerMedia CEO who is widely expected to be odd man out and lose his job when the company’s spinoff with Discovery is finalized. AT&T chief John Stankey, who negotiated the pact with Zaslav, was invited, but will not attend.
Sun Valley has often played host to presidential aspirants and government bigwigs such as Chris Christie and Cory Booker, neither of whom are on this year’s guest list. Nikki Haley, former US Ambassador to the UN and a potential 2024 candidate, is on the invite list, but a spokesperson says she will not make the trek to Idaho. Other pols and Beltway insiders include Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, and William McRaven, the former Commander of the United States Special Forces.
From the world of sports there’s Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, Buffalo Bills and Sabres owner Terry Pegula, New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver and National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell.
Academia may not boast the kind of salaries that are usually a requirement for entry at Sun Valley, but the professors and school presidents are useful for the panel discussions that form much of the week’s activities. Behind closed doors, guests are treated to talks on everything from global terrorism to public education to global warming. Afternoons are spent biking, whitewater rafting and barbecuing. This year’s group of Ivory Tower denizens includes The University of Chicago President Bob Zimmer, Georgetown University President Jack DeGioia, and Nicholas Christakis, Yale University’s Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science.
Others getting the golden ticket and chance to trade their power suits for windbreakers and sensible chinos include Shake Shack creator Danny Meyer, Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell, Palantir CEO Alex Karp, “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” creator Vince Gilligan, “Murphy Brown” star Candice Bergen, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, producer Brian Grazer, Casey Wasserman, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee president and head of marketing and management company Wasserman, and Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug control policy advisor who founded Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a political organization opposed to marijuana legalization and commercialization.
The event is off-the-record, but some journalists are allowed behind the velvet rope, either to serve as moderators for talks or to source build. This year’s contingent from the Fourth Estate includes Diane Sawyer, Anderson Cooper, Van Jones, Tom Brokaw, Gayle King, New Yorker reporter Evan Osnos, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “Squawk Box” co-hosts Becky Quick and Andrew Ross Sorkin, and Lionel Barber, the former editor of the Financial Times.
The conference’s guest list is notably lacking in diversity, with only a few people of color and Black media leaders invited.
Being on the guest list doesn’t mean that a person will actually appear at the Alpine Idyll — Jerry Seinfeld was invited one year, but didn’t show. The one-percent of the one-percenters lead busy lives, after all. It’s possible, for instance, that Bezos’ planned trip to space on July 20 could alter those plans. If he doesn’t attend, he’ll have company. A few regulars aren’t on the list this time. Those sitting Sun Valley out this time include Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan (though ex-wife Wendi Deng Murdoch is named on the list), as well as billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Updated: 12:32 pm PT 6/7/21 to reflect that John Stankey will not attend the conference.
Updated: 2:50 pm PT 6/8/21 to reflect that Nikki Haley will not attend the conference.