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In the early morning darkness of July 10, 2019, on a bare-bones outdoor interview set constructed on the side of a road in Sun Valley, Idaho, Discovery CEO David Zaslav laid out the case for the M&A frenzy that would hit the entertainment business nearly two years later.
“[Streaming] is going to be a street fight,” Zaslav told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin when asked about WarnerMedia’s just-announced-at-the-time plans to launch HBO Max. “Each of those players that are chasing that ball — chasing scripted movies and scripted series — they are chasing IP, and none of them have enough.”
Two years later, and Zaslav is poised to take control of HBO Max himself as part of an IP-driven megadeal that will see WarnerMedia and Discovery merge. During a press conference announcing the deal May 17, Zaslav said it “brings together the most valuable, important and exciting IP in the world.”
This summer, Zaslav and a slew of tech and media moguls once again are poised to board their private jets for Sun Valley, marking the return of horseback riding, rafting, guided hikes, golf and perhaps more billion-dollar deals. Power players traditionally have used the exclusive and secretive event to casually lay the groundwork for M&A. (The agenda and speakers are kept secret, though CNBC puts up an interview set to try to wrangle the more press-friendly attendees.)
Allen & Co.’s annual Sun Valley conference, colloquially referred to as “summer camp for moguls” because of the power wattage of its attendees and the activities they enjoy in the mountains, was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, but with restrictions being lifted and dealmaking in full swing, the confab that led to The Walt Disney Co.’s acquisition of CapCities/ABC, the much-maligned AOL-Time Warner merger, early talks between Comcast executives and NBCUniversal, and Google’s takeover of YouTube is ready for a comeback.
Discovery’s WarnerMedia deal, Amazon’s $8.45 billion takeover of MGM and the reopening of the economy are likely to feature among the topics of debate at the retreat, which traditionally starts after the Fourth of July holiday (Allen & Co., as it happened, was an adviser to Discovery on the WarnerMedia deal).
Allen & Co. has not officially confirmed the conference’s return, but a check of Sun Valley Resort’s reservation system — which books the Lodge, Inn and more accommodations — shows the week after July 4 is blocked out, and the local newspaper Idaho Mountain Express reported that the conference would return. The confab’s 2019 attendee list included Zaslav, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, Shari Redstone (before Viacom and CBS re-merged), Apple CEO Tim Cook, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg and IAC chairman Barry Diller.
The investment bank doesn’t publicly release a guest list or agenda for the gathering, but attendees, including speakers from the political world, tend to surface sooner or later. Beyond a schedule of presentations and discussions, the event features social time for moguls to mingle (and perhaps talk deals). Over the years, industry titans have also enjoyed bike rides, white-water rafting and other activities.
This year, however, the theme of the event may as well be two letters: IP.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (another Sun Valley regular) said the impetus for the MGM deal was its “vast, deep catalog of much beloved intellectual property,” but Zaslav saw it coming in 2019. “They have an extraordinarily powerful platform. They own the world,” he said at the time when asked about Amazon or Apple getting into the content business. “We all have platform envy, but they need IP to attract people to their platform.”
This summer, the IP capital of the world will be central Idaho.
This story appeared in the May 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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