Sun Valley: What to Expect From This Year's Mogul Gathering

Lachlan, Rupert and James Murdoch

Topics are likely to include Univision’s plans for an IPO, ongoing concerns over cord-cutting and Apple’s foray into subscription music.

Participants of the changing-of-the-guard at 21st Century Fox will be on display in Sun Valley, Idaho, at the famed gathering of moguls that will run Tuesday-Sunday

The off-the-record event that was created more than three decades ago by investment firm Allen & Co. routinely attracts the most powerful people in media, entertainment and technology, and it could mark a sort of coming out party for James Murdoch, who replaced his father Rupert as CEO of 21st Century Fox last Wednesday. On the same day, Lachlan Murdoch became executive co-chairman and Chase Carey stepped down as COO and became executive vice chairman. Carey and all three Murdochs will be at the Allen conference along with 21st Century Fox CFO John Nallen.

Also confirmed as planning to attend, according to insiders, is Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and CBS CEO and COO, respectively, Les Moonves and Joseph Ianniello. Others on the guest list include Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger and COO Thomas Staggs; Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and Paramount head Brad Grey; Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton; and Liberty Media chairman John Malone.

In new-media/technology, invitees include Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

It remains to be seen what the elite group of executives choose to discuss at the notoriously secretive and casual gathering, but past attendees say conversations tend to revolve around entertainment-industry news of the day. Beyond major changes at 21st Century Fox, topics are likely to include Univision’s plans for an initial public offering, ongoing concerns over cord-cutting and DVRs and Apple’s foray into subscription music.

If NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke shows up he may be pressed to talk about severing ties with Donald Trump over controversial remarks the presidential hopeful made about illegal immigrants. Similarly, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton might have to revisit the infamous Sony hack for the umpteenth time and uncomfortable discussions involving child molestation could crop up should Discovery CEO David Zaslav attend, given scandals at 19 Kids & Counting and the now-canceled Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Zaslav attended last year’s conference, though — as with all of the executives — there’s never an official word regarding who and who will not attend. Reporters, in fact, are usually seen held at bay jotting down the names of the famous executives they see heading into the proceedings and they hope that some of them will grace them with a quick interview.

Usually on the unofficial agenda are discussions of potential mergers and acquisitions. Last year, for example, insiders said there was speculation about the Weinstein Co’s. desire to sell its TV division and nine months later it was negotiating a sale of the unit for as much as $950 million to ITV, but the deal fell apart. This year, co-founder Harvey Weinstein is again invited to the Allen conference and, if he attends, he might be seen trying to line up other possible bidders.

Past deals hatched at least in part at the Sun Valley event include:

► Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post for $250 million after discussions initiated at the 2013 Allen event. 

► At the 2009 event, Comcast co-founder Ralph Roberts huddled with GE chief Jeff Immelt about the status of NBCU, a conversation that resulted in Comcast purchasing a majority interest in the asset. Four years later, Comcast assumed 100 percent ownership of NBCU.

► At the 2007 conference, word was that Dow Jones was in play and that there was already an offer on the table from one of the founders of MySpace, but Rupert Murdoch — a frequent attendee — swooped in and purchased the parent of The Wall Street Journal for $5 billion.

► Then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner reportedly learned while hiking at the Allen retreat that Fox Family Channel was about to be sold to a rival, which prompted him to grab the asset for $5.2 billion, roughly $2 billion more than most analysts thought it was worth.

► Then-Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin probably wishes he had skipped the Allen retreat in 2000, where the notion of merging with AOL was first broached. Six months later, AOL used its massively overpriced stock to purchase a controlling stake in a new company called AOL Time Warner, and the transaction is still considered the worst merger in American history. In 2009, Time Warner split from AOL and the latter recently agreed to be acquired by Verizon Communications for $4.4 billion.

► Just three weeks after the 1996 Sun Valley event, Disney, under Eisner, purchased CapCities/ABC for $19 billion, an acquisition that brought Iger to Disney. Nine years later, he replaced Eisner as CEO of the iconic media conglomerate.

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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