SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Brian Grazer and Bobby Kotick goofed around a little bit when they ran into each other in the driveway outside the Sun Valley Lodge.
Grazer pretended to be announcing Kotick’s name in sports announcer fashion (“Bob-bee Kooo-tick”). But other than a little backslapping and mugging for a selfie by the chairman of Imagine Entertainment and the CEO of Activision Blizzard, Allen & Co. conference attendees were all business for the gathering here that brings together business moguls, tech titans and other influential figures for heady conversations about issues ranging from the economy to public health (a natural topic after last year’s conference was KO’d by COVID) to immigration to climate change.
Upon arriving at the mountain resort, Allen & Co. conference-goers were directed to take a rapid COVID-19 test. That sober reminder of real-world conditions outside of this picturesque Alpine village-style setting definitely cut into the willingness of CEOs to engage with the clutch of business reporters who make the trek up to the region known to the locals as the Wood River Valley.
“Everybody’s in a good mood but it feels like a year to be low key,” said a prominent entertainment industry executive who is an Allen & Co. regular.
Arrival day inevitably brings a few traffic jams to the tiny towns in the area. Private planes were lined up rows deep at Friedman Memorial Airport as others jockeyed for precious landing slots. Eleven miles north at the lodge, the parade of black and silver SUVs ferrying passengers to and fro also got backed up. Comcast chairman-CEO Brian Roberts chatted with Graham Holdings Co. chief Donald Graham as Roberts waited to park his vehicle while Graham headed to the golf course with a bag of clubs in tow.
Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos skipped the car line and walked together into the lodge, each pulling their own small roller suitcase. Disney’s Bob Iger and Bob Chapek, ViacomCBS’ Shari Redstone, NBCUniversal’s Jeff Shell, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, WarnerMedia’s Jason Kilar, Snap’s Michael Lynton, Shack Shake founder Danny Meyer and Hearst chief Steve Swartz were also spotted. Some waved but none stopped.
The conference begins in earnest on Wednesday with sessions that will be held outdoors this year. The first day is expected to include a presentation on e-commerce by Shopify by CEO Tobias Lutke and a general discussion of the global economic climate. A session on criminal justice reform is also on the agenda.
On Thursday, Allen & Co. regulars Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg will hold a session on creativity. Immigration reform will also be discussed. On Friday, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates will address climate change. Another Friday session will be devoted to leading during trouble times.
CIA director Bill Burns is among the heavyweight politicos on the guest list this year. James Baker III, former secretary of state, will interview Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren Buffett on Saturday for the traditional closing session with the Oracle of Omaha.
(Pictured: Bill Gates and Bill Burns)
(Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Idaho’s local name for the Sun Valley region as Magic Valley.)