Latest news from Sun Valley


Key themes emerge at Sun Valley
Key themes and topics of debate at this year's Sun Valley mogul gathering have emerged over the first two days of sessions and activities. They include:

-- A more negative perception of the U.S. and European economies (which could also affect the advertising market), with more CEOs having soured a bit as of late. Many now predict a slow and prolonged economic recovery, a few even predict fear of a double-dip recession, meaning a return to recession in the near future. See also below: Liberty Media chairman John Malone's comments on the U.S. Economy

-- Rising criticism of the Administration's policies, which some now see as too anti-business. While many think President Obama will make (or have to make) the pendulum swing to support companies in creating much-needed jobs, the media camp, which has a reputation as being traditionally Democratic, now point to tax policies, as well as rising health care costs and budget deficits as key concerns. As could be expected, Malone had some sharp words for the president (see below), and News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch waved off a question about the administration's policies with a knowing smile and comment that suggested he knew he may headlines with it. But others are also reported to have expressed discontent during the Allen & Co. meeting.

-- Content and tech players (old vs new media) looking for more cooperation and believing both sides can benefit as long as deals are structured smartly. Monetization of content in the digital world is still a key theme that CEOs struggle with, even though some see progress. One recurring prediction here, for example, has been that content companies will experiment with different ways of making their content available on the iPad, which is seen as a game-changing device. Importantly, both sides are looking for longer-term solutions, knowing well that digital success can turn to digital headaches. MySpace was mentioned as an example in one session, in which a provocative speaker suggested the social networking site may only be worth $100 million today -- well below the $580 million that News Corp. paid for it. See also below: NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker's comments on analog dollars and digital quarters

-- Apple versus Google is widely seen as a showdown that will increasingly come into focus. And that even though Google CEO Eric Schmidt told reporters late Thursday that Google worked on the Android phone way before Apple launched the iPhone and that the two can both succeed with products in the same space.

-- Small acquisitions and deals, if any at all, remain in focus. Several CEOs said they didn't come to Sun Valley to do deals, and many conveyed the underlying message that they expect to continue to shy away from major, transformative acquisitions. And some deals that have been in the works for a while are still taking their time. On the studio side, for example, Maffei and Malone said Liberty continues to explore its options for Overture Films. And while Disney finally has agreed in principle to sell Miramax, the acquiring group still faces financing issues. And several industry execs here predicted that any new owner may have won the battle, but may have trouble winning the war, namely finding a strong executive to run the outfit. One Hollywood insider summed it up like this: "Who'd wanna run it!?"

-- Georg Szalai

Saban vague on plans

In between lectures and consortia, Univision Communications chairman Haim Saban sat in the Sun Valley coffee shop known as the Konditorei and made furtive phone calls Thursday. Asked whether he was doing any business in Sun Valley, he simply said he was doing "a deal," but would not allow what or where or with whom. "Things have gone great this week," he said.

Saban told THR that he is "very bullish" on Univision, in part due to the recovering advertising market and the continued growth of the Hispanic population, and is "not thinking about an exit at all." Instead, he is focused on "riding the success of the company."

His plans for the next season of the "Power Rangers," which he recently reacquired: "We may go back to a more campy kind of show, emphasizing comedy" in between action segments. Working on a new "Power Rangers" film yet, Mr. Saban? No, he wants to first focus on making the TV show a hit again. But in a year from now, a film may come into focus. Could old deal partner News Corp.'s Fox serve as the distributor? "In due course, we'll talk to everybody," Saban told THR.

-- Georg Szalai and Dan Cox

Ovitz, Biondi name-checked
Another major mogul who shall remain nameless was more than talkative about the Sun Valley tag-alongs, or past executives who lost their jobs but still came to the conference. Specifically, he brought up Mike Ovitz, past co-founder of CAA and dealmaker excelsior. Ovitz was spotted on Tuesday arriving and admitted that he had no clear idea of the Sun valley agenda. But he's kept a pretty low profile. "Herb (Allen) has always been friendly with Mike," the mogul said. "He likes to have him here." The mogul also pointed to former Viacom boss Frank Biondi as an exec who was granted an extra year a while back. "I don't know if it's a policy or just a year to year thing, but Herb has always been loyal and willing to stick by almost anyone."

-- Dan Cox

Malone on Overture and Obama
The movie business is tough if you are "middle of the pack," Liberty Media chairman John Malone told The Hollywood Reporter as he met the press Thursday morning before catching the early morning session here at the annual Allen & Co. outing for media, tech and other types. He responded to a question about the future of Liberty's Overture Films, for which it has explored options, including a sale, partnership or shutdown.

Asked which option he would prefer, the mogul said his team is handling the issue, but he would most like to bring on board an investor "who is good at making movies." No comment on who that could be.

Overall though, Malone continues to prefer subscription businesses: "We've decided to go more towards our Starz (channels) business and become less dependent on movie output."

Most media questions today though focused on the state of the economy, and Malone was happy to opine. He is "quite concerned" about the U.S. economy and feels the country is "a little bit in the corner." "I just don't see the catalyst in the U.S. for major growth." Could President Obama's vow to boost exports help? Malone said it would be a great partial solution, but also got a dig against the president in. "He makes great speeches."

-- Georg Szalai

Digital dollars slow to materialize
How are media companies doing in the digital space these days? Well, they are up to making digital quarters for each analog dollar, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker said here Thursday morning in his latest update on the evolving digital business.

A few years ago, he had spoken of digital pennies, but early last year revised that to digital dimes. No prediction, though, on when an analog dollar will become a digital dollar.

THR also wanted to know how he feels the regulatory review of the Comcast-NBC Uni deal is going, which the companies have said should be completed late this year. Said Zucker: "Everything is on track." -- Georg Szalai

Wednesday, July 7

Freston addresses plans ... sort of
Former Viacom chieftain Tom Freston ambled about the Sun Valley campus Wednesday looking like the well-regarded but disenfranchised executive he's become since leaving his top job a few years back after a spat with Viacom chair Sumner Redstone.

Asked what he plans next, he eagerly talked about the Afghani Moby Group, the pre-eminent Afghanistan media group on whose board he sits. "That's where my mind is right now," Freston told the Hollywood Reporter. (Read Ken Auletta's piece about it in the New Yorker here.)

Rumors surrounding the "secret guest speaker" for this year have swirled all week. Names have ranged from Gen. David Petraeus to high-ranking politicians from the U.S. and abroad.

Freston deferred on the topic, but one rumor has pointed to Saad Mohseni, chairman of Moby Group. Freston was rhapsodic about his Arabic friend to Auletta: "Saad is the nexus of everything going through Kabul," Freston said. "Besides the television business, he knows every foreign correspondent."

Mohseni collects business cards compulsively, placing them in the clear plastic sleeves of a loose-leaf book. "He's a great networker," Freston continued. "He's got this contagious personality."

-- Dan Cox

Iger: 'Millionaire' jury got it wrong
Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger just came out of some Sun Valley meetings. Asked by THR about the "Millionaire" case ruling against Disney, he said the company can and will appeal.

Said the mogul: "The judge and the jury got this all wrong."

-- Georg Szalai

Moguls pick sides for World Cup
With the Sun Valley Inn showing the World Cup semifinal between Germany and Spain today, some moguls shared their feelings about the contest. Asked about his allegiance, Peter Chernin told the press pack he will root for Spain. An unidentified female attendee wore a top with the German flag and said she'll support her team. Grupo Televisa CEO Emilio Azcarraga Jean said he obviously is a big Mexico fan, so he doesn't care much who will win.

Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger said he is just looking for a good game -- and added it will be as the Inn is showing Disney's ESPN coverage. Asked how he feels about ESPN and ABC's World Cup ratings to date, Iger told THR: "Very happy."

-- Georg Szalai

Disney's Iger mum on ABC sale
"I'm not here to make any deals." That's how Walt Disney president and CEO Robert Iger responded to The Hollywood Reporter's question Wednesday morning about whether he has reached a decision on a potential sale of ABC.

Most moguls arriving at the Sun Valley Inn for breakfast, which started at 6:30 a.m., and first presentations, didn't leave much time for reporters beyond saying hello and waving.

Among key entertainment moguls spotted upon their arrival at the first sessions of the annual retreat for top media and tech players: News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch with wife Wendi, CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves who arrived with Universal's Ron Meyer, Liberty CEO Greg Maffei, Michael Eisner and Grupo Televisa CEO Emilio Azcarraga Jean, as well as DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg who walked in with Herb Allen, the organizer of the annual mogul gathering here. Iger spent the most morning time with the press.

-- Georg Szalai

Read on for more coverage of Sun Valley ...

Media moguls predict slow economic recovery
Lingering anxiety over the state of the economy colored the proceedings at the 28th annual Sun Valley media and tech mogul gathering. Full story

Google woos studios, guilds in Sun Valley
Attention movie studios: Google's YouTube is open for business with you and other content partners. That was a key message from the Google top management team in Sun Valley on Thursday. Full story

Dreaming of deals at Sun Valley
The media and tech mogul cadre is on summer camp at Herb Allen's Sun Valley gathering, and few have shared thoughts with the press, but one of the most popular activities at this annual tradition is talk about who has been seen with whom at the bar, walking through town or otherwise interacting. Full story

R&R, panels on agenda at Sun Valley confab
The annual Allen & Co. media and tech mogul gathering got down to business -- and the outdoors -- on Wednesday.Full story

Tuesday, July 6

Arrivals, but little chitchat
Disney CEO Bob Iger and his wife, Willow Bay, arrive at the Sun Valley Lodge. Bay stays in the car while Iger promises the press to maybe chat a bit Wednesday. Will Disney sell ABC -- the question that is on everyone's mind, one reporter asks. Iger, with a smile, says: "I'm not going to answer the question on everybody's mind."

When Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav and wife Pam arrived at the Sun Valley Lodge, Zaslav told reporters "the ad market remains healthy."

And former Hollywood power broker and ex-CAA boss Michael Ovitz -- sporting an orange sweater around his shoulders -- reared his head here as he arrived for the Allen & Co. mogul gathering. It's unclear what kind of business or company is looking to create or do business with.

-- Georg Szalai

Free movies in the news

Here's the entertainment industry headline of the day for the Gem State: Regal Entertainment Group is offering a free family movie all summer long.

The Idaho Statesman has a story on the front page of its Life & Marketplace section with a special offer for parents. "Want to get the kids out of the house, but don't want to spend a ton of money or swelter in the heat?" the article begins. "Head to Edwards theaters in Boise or Nampa for free movies at 10 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesdays each week."

Photo by Georg Szalai
There is also a somewhat more hidden entertainment industry reference, in the form of humor, on the opinion page. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution caricature shows a young man playing with his iPhone 4, while "Toy Story" characters Woody and Buzz look upset. Says Woody: "The jerk never plays with US anymore."

I wonder what Apple boss Steve Jobs, who is also Disney's largest individual shareholder, would say about this. Too bad he is not coming to this week's Sun Valley media and tech mogul outing. Then again, Disney CEO Bob Iger is expected in town ...

-- Georg Szalai

Read on for more coverage of Sun Valley ...

Media moguls descend upon Sun Valley
Media and tech execs slowly trickled in throughout the day Tuesday as the town got ready for the 28th annual Allen & Co. gathering. Full story

Sun Valley braces for mogul invasion

"It's the last quiet night before all the action," the elderly store manager here in Sun Valley tells me early Monday evening. The streets and stores
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