The best part of this year’s Allen & Co. moguls conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, was the speed dating.
That’s how several attendees described the atmosphere at the annual gathering of business, tech, political and international movers and shakers.
In a nod to COVID concerns, organizers erected a large outdoor pavilion space to allow groups to mingle in a meeting-friendly setting without being in close quarters. That had the side benefit of letting everyone see who was taking meetings with whom. It was noted that Disney CEO Bob Chapek and executive chairman Bob Iger made the rounds together. Apple’s Tim Cook and Eddy Cue had a long line at their table.
Conferencegoers were encouraged to take part in sessions that ran 30 to 45 minutes max from 12 to 6 p.m.
The hottest topics at the tables this year, according to conversations with a half-dozen participants, were the future of the streaming bundle and of sports rights deals, local and national. Attendees said there was also greater acknowledgment that the entertainment industry is in the midst of a fundamental transition to on-demand digital-distribution platforms that has to be addressed.
“The overall consensus is, everything’s changing. I should be open to anything because I need to have as many options as possible,” said a media CEO who is a longtime Allen & Co. attendee.
Notable was the shift in attitude from that of even the 2019 Sun Valley soiree, when “there was more talk of ‘Oh, I have enough to go it alone,’” the source said. Not surprisingly, one source described the most “confident” people in the woodsy setting as the Disney duo of Chapek and Iger. “They make all their own content,” the source said enviously.
Shari Redstone’s moves were closely watched in the fishbowl environment. ViacomCBS is increasingly seen as ripe for a sale at a time when everyone is chasing Disney-esque scale with content and brands.
“She’s either a great actor or she’s not that worried,” said a source who knows Redstone. Another source noted that the ViacomCBS chairman has spent the past few years streamlining her empire, moves that would make a transaction easier down the road.
Now that traditional media giants are all investing big in streaming platforms, there’s an obsessive focus on bundling services and how consumers will navigate so many direct-to-consumer options. Traditional media executives are worried that Apple or Google or Roku or some other third-party player will become the new cable operator — the distribution go-between — by finding a way to bundle rival services to make it easier for subscribers to search for content and pay bills.
“It’s still too hard for people to find stuff,” the CEO source said. “People think this will get solved by rebundling or by technology.”
The other major issue that was on the minds of the content-focused executives at Allen & Co. was sports rights, which are skyrocketing at the same time live viewership for most sports is eroding. The NFL recently set a 10-year, $100 billion long-term renewal of its TV contracts. The NBA’s pacts with ESPN/ABC and TNT/TBS are up after the 2024-25 season.
Given that the NBA doesn’t have the same ratings pull as the NFL, there’s speculation that the hoops league may make a radical break with tradition and put a significant number of games exclusively on its proprietary NBA League Pass streaming platform to boost subscriptions.
“There’s no more 10-year deals for anything other than NFL,” said the CEO source.