SUN VALLEY, Idaho — As the sun is about to set on another Sun Valley conference, this year’s four-day Allen & Co. event has been notable for the low profile kept by the most high-wattage attendees, to the frustration of the business, media and tech sectors obsessed with the activity of billionaires and CEOs.
Before the moguls pack up and leave the exclusive Sun Valley Lodge — at least those who haven’t booked it to their private jets already, like Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav, who left Thursday night — Tesla boss and maybe-soon-to-be-Twitter-owner Elon Musk (who snuck in through the back entrance Thursday evening) will take the stage for the gathering’s big closing chat Saturday. That coveted slot has previously been given to other high-profile guests of honor, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, both of whom were back in attendance this year.
True to his affable form, Buffett, the legendary Berkshire Hathaway investor, hasn’t shied away from the media and photographers who have carefully managed access to the resort property that is styled as an Alpine Village. But Gates certainly has, and he’s not alone in that decision. Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings went far out of his way across a field at lunch time Thursday to escape the media’s gaze.
Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Fox Corp. and News Corp. baron Rupert Murdoch also worked to avoid being spotted by journalists. Zuckerberg went so far as to scrap the big party he’s been known to throw at Whiskey Jacques, a watering hole down the road from the Sun Valley Lodge in nearby Ketchum.
Why so cloak and dagger this year? It’s hardly a surprise given the volatile state of the stock market and the unpredictable state of the news cycle for boldface business names. Netflix leaders Hastings and Ted Sarandos are dealing with a massive moment of change for the Great Disruptor that they have steered to new heights during the past decade. Zuckerberg’s Meta is under fire from many quarters as momentum builds for a fresh wave of Big Tech vs. federal regulators — something Zuckerberg’s pal Gates can advise him on from deep experience (see: United States of America vs. Microsoft Corp., 1998).
Meanwhile, Musk can’t seem to keep himself out of the headlines. Not only are there serious doubts about the status of his takeover bid for Twitter (more on that below) but as he alighted in the Sawtooth Mountains social media was thrumming with chatter that he has quietly added two more heirs to his large family with an executive at his Neuralink tech startup.
While there may have been no ragers at the posh resort — that Variety and the other members of the press on site know of — a small patch of glitter confetti was was found strewn in the grass Thursday morning in the bucolic resort. (Who knows how it got there, but we’re intrigued by it.)
As for the conference programming this year, sources say that panels on global politics, biotechnology and mental health stood out as significant. One attendee told Variety the emphasis on understanding mental health concerns was “really important for them to address” and “hasn’t been done in the past.” There were also sessions run by guest speakers including Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and Spotify chief Daniel Ek.
But most of what was discussed in the closed-door panels is still unknown because, as one source put it, “you sign your life away” to get inside. Among the notables from the political arena in attendance at Allen & Co. this year included Sen. Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia who has significant sway over President Joe Biden’s agenda thanks to the Senate’s razor-thin margin.
Then there’s the all-important networking, which is seen happening in public places consistently, like when Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer, Apple’s Tim Cook and Bloomberg Media mogul and former NYC boss Michael Bloomberg were spotted chatting right in front of the lodge Thursday evening, just before Musk’s arrival. The newly betrothed Bryan Lourd of CAA and Chris Silbermann of ICM Partners were also seen palling around together now that the heavily scrutinized $750 million combination of talent agency powerhouses is complete.
Fun fact: While Lourd and Silbermann have worked within a three-mile radius of each other for decades, the two truly first got to know each other through the conference (they’ve both been regulars for years). It’s no coincidence the CAA-ICM tie-up was unveiled in September 2021, about two months after the agency chiefs took in the high-altitude air together at Sun Valley.
Perhaps the most intriguing sight this year were the attendees who chose to chat with reporters in plain sight. Zaslav was the only one to come over and speak with reporters (and did so twice) on arrival day. Meanwhile, Sheryl Sandberg was spotted in the middle of a sitdown with Puck’s Dylan Byers in the Konditorei cafe.
Despite the fact press had a harder time getting eyes and ears on what was happening at Sun Valley this year, those who wanted to be seen doing what they were doing certainly were. And those who didn’t, like Musk — who was on the grounds at the same time as Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, amid reports Musk’s team’s investigation into spam bots means his deal to buy Twitter is in “serious jeopardy” — certainly weren’t.
(Pictured: Jeffrey Katzenberg and Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer are all smiles early in the morning at Allen & Co.’s 2022 Sun Valley conference.)