If ever there was a year for the Allen & Co. conference to be a fertile ground for dealmaking among the titans of tech and media, it’s this one.
The entertainment industry is in an everyone’s-talking-to-everyone moment, as evidenced by the surprise of the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger and Amazon’s move to swallow up a legacy Hollywood studio with its nearly $9 billion acquisition of MGM.
The moguls and C-suite executives who attend the invitation-only Allen & Co. gathering that runs July 6-10 at the Sun Valley mountain resort haven’t done much mingling over the past 18 months amid lockdown conditions. This year’s high-altitude reunion, after last year’s conference was tabled for the first time in years, could spark — and even revive — any number of conversations.
The news that surfaced in May about the AT&T/WarnerMedia/Discovery talks shook loose a burst of chatter about intriguing albeit mostly “what-if” conversations that have taken place over the past few years: WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal, with and without Discovery thrown in; Time Warner and Discovery; Disney and Time Warner; Apple and MGM; Discovery and Viacom (pre-CBS reunion in 2019). The potential combinations are as plentiful as options for twisting a Rubik’s cube.
One big question on the minds of attendees is whether any of Amazon’s FAANG peers will follow suit and pursue a hefty acquisition of a studio or a mega content library to fuel their media ambitions. The conversations of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple’s Tim Cook, both of whom are expected this week, will be scrutinized per the Kremlinology of watching Brahmins of business move around the Alpine village setting of the Sun Valley Lodge that is tucked into central Idaho’s stunning Sawtooth National Forest.
David Zaslav, the Discovery CEO who is undisputedly the big winner so far of the WarnerMedia-Discovery tie-up, is a longtime Allen & Co. regular and is expected to be in belle-of-the-ball mode this year. Zaslav’s body language around fellow attendee Jason Kilar, who is preparing for an abbreviated run as WarnerMedia CEO once the Discovery deal closes, will be closely watched.
The same goes for Netflix’s Ted Sarandos and Reed Hastings as the industry debates whether the streaming giant has been wise to stay on the M&A sidelines, so far. Attendees will surely try to suss out if Comcast chief Brian Roberts is as mad as people say he is at losing the chance to buy WarnerMedia. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell will attend his first conference since being upped to the top spot in January 2020. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos may not make the Sun Valley scene this year as he prepares for his Blue Origin private space flight on July 20. But Amazon’s newly anointed CEO Andy Jassy is expected to press the flesh.
As the biggest of Big Media hunt for more content assets, Sony Pictures Entertainment and the ViacomCBS vault are Hollywood’s biggest studio acquisition targets. No doubt there will be much discussion among conference attendees about whether both of those shops are as “not for sale” as their respective parent companies have publicly asserted. Shari Redstone, controlling shareholder of ViacomCBS, is expected to make the trek to Sun Valley once again this week; Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman-CEO Tony Vinciquerra is not.
The Allen & Co. conference typically features a heavy dose of politics and looks-ahead at technology trends in its morning conference sessions, which are leavened with recreational pursuits in the afternoon. Some of the summer-camp-like atmosphere may be curtailed this year as the temperature is set to be in the upper 80s most of the week and the gathering is not expected to include as many young family members as usual, given the pandemic. Heady subjects like the threat of more global pandemics, cyber security, climate change, the shift in the economic climate and the national mood with the segue from Donald Trump to Joe Biden are sure to be among the themes of this year’s jawboning sessions.
The range of guests is always designed to encourage a salon-like atmosphere. The mix of personalities this year is expected to include Shake Shack founder and culinary entrepreneur Danny Meyer, Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell, Palantir CEO Alex Karp, “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” creator/executive producer Vince Gilligan, “Murphy Brown” star Candice Bergen, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, producer Brian Grazer, producer/investor Casey Wasserman as well as the trifecta of top sports leaders: Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
(Pictured: Incoming WarnerBros./Discovery CEO David Zaslav at the 2013 Allen & Co. conference)