CBS, Viacom CEOs Won’t Attend Sun Valley Mogul Conference Amid Merger Talks

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The annual gathering in Idaho for dealmakers will include Fox Corp.’s Lachlan Murdoch, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Activision Blizzard chief Bobby Kotick.

Allen & Co’s. famous yet secretive gathering in Sun Valley, Idaho, begins early next month and perhaps the most notable media executives who won’t be attending are Joe Ianniello and Bob Bakish, the CEOs of CBS and Viacom, respectively.

The annual convention, of sorts, is renowned for hosting the leading executives and owners in media who oftentimes talk business, politics and, most notably, sometimes lay the groundwork for blockbuster mergers.

In the case of CBS and Viacom, merger negotiations are allegedly already underway as Shari Redstone and her ailing father, Sumner, control them both and are eager to combine them in order to compete more seriously with Walt Disney after its purchase of most of 21st Century Fox and AT&T in the wake of its acquisition of Time Warner. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Shari Redstone will attend this year’s Sun Valley retreat.

Ianniello didn’t attend last year, either, while his predecessor, Leslie Moonves, was a frequent guest in Sun Valley before he was officially ousted from CBS for sexual misconduct in September. Bakish, on the other hand, was “blackballed” from the event after complaining about the way Allen & Co., a boutique banking firm, handled a deal that involved Viacom, Fox Business reported. (Viacom didn’t respond to a request for comment).

Also set to attend is Lachlan Murdoch, CEO of the Fox Corporation, which consists of Fox News, the Fox broadcast network and other assets that weren’t sold to Disney. Lachlan’s brother James, who has been running an investment firm since the Disney-Fox partial merger, is invited, though it is not known if he’ll attend. Their father, Rupert Murdoch, is reportedly recovering from a bout with pneumonia and is not expected this year.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg should both be there as the latter takes a break from what some reports call an “apology tour” after Facebook famously allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest users’ personal data for the purpose of political advertising. Also on hand in Sun Valley for the 20th straight year will be Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard, one of the world’s largest video game companies, who had until recently been dating Sandberg. MPAA head Charles Rivkin will also be attending the conference this year. 

Last year at this time, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Rupert Murdoch were all the rage as Comcast and Disney were engaged in a bidding war for the Fox assets. Iger and Roberts are again invited.

Major deals that had their genesis at a Sun Valley gathering include:

► Verizon and Yahoo executives attended in 2016 and shortly thereafter the telecom company announced it would purchase the once-dominant Internet company for a relatively cheap $4.8 billion.

► Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post for $250 million after discussions were initiated at the 2013 gathering.

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

► In 2007, 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 swooped in and purchased the parent of The Wall Street Journal for $5 billion.

► Michael Eisner, at the time CEO of Disney, reportedly learned while hiking at the Allen retreat that Fox Family Channel was about to be sold to a rival, which prompted him in 2001 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 no doubt wishes he had skipped the Allen retreat in 2000, where the idea of merging with AOL was hatched. Six months later, AOL used its overpriced stock to purchase a controlling stake in Time Warner and the transaction is considered the worst merger in American history. In 2015, Verizon bought AOL for just $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 Disney CEO.