Sun sets on Sun Valley amid deal talk

Blair said to be on way to Idaho

NEW YORK -- Herb Allen's annual gathering of media and technology moguls in Sun Valley, Idaho, has produced panels on content strategy in the digital age, private equity and hedge funds, health care and terrorism, a presentation on Time Warner Inc.'s digital future and a canceled rafting trip.

There also was a lot of deal chatter that, for now, remains just that.

According to one source and several reports, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was expected to make a surprise appearance before the retreat comes to an end this weekend. There is talk that Blair could end up joining the board of News Corp. because he and chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch are known to have a good relationship.

Murdoch, in Sun Valley with wife Wendi Deng, has been the talk of town for much of the week given News Corp.'s continuing takeover discussions with financial news and information powerhouse Dow Jones & Co.

However, as of Thursday, it looked unlikely that the mogul would have to dart back to New York to close a deal, as some observers had predicted before the industry get-together.

It seemed increasingly likely that a potential sale of the Wall Street Journal owner to Murdoch, if it happens, would not be announced until late this month or perhaps next month, sources said. Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle and Brad Greenspan, the founder of the former parent of News Corp.'s MySpace, were believed to be weighing an offer for Dow Jones, and any final proposal would need to be reviewed and approved by the Bancroft family that controls Dow Jones.

Murdoch expressed frustration with the Bancrofts this week, telling reporters in Sun Valley that "they keep changing their mind." However, News Corp. signaled its confidence this week in getting its Fox Business Network off the ground even without a Dow Jones deal, unveiling Oct. 15 as the channel's launch date.

News Corp. and Dow Jones spokesmen declined comment on the state of the takeover talks.

Industry folks also were hoping to get clarity in Sun Valley on a potential last-minute Warner Music Group play for EMI Group. One Wall Street observer predicted that the final word would not come before next week.

UBS analyst Ian Whittaker said in a report to clients this week that WMG has hired former Wall Street banker Alan Mnuchin to work alongside its advisers Goldman Sachs and Lehman Bros. to help assess a £2.3 billion ($4.7 billion) bid for EMI.

"Although Warner has completed its due diligence on EMI, it remains undecided as to whether it should make a bid to counter (private-equity firm) Terra Firma's offer," he wrote.

A source confirmed that the takeover panel handling the EMI sale has given WMG until Thursday to show its hand, giving chairman and CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. less than a week to make a decision. Sources have said that if the company doesn't bid now, it could look to buy the EMI recorded music operations from Terra Firma down the line. A WMG spokesman declined comment on the situation.

Meanwhile, Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei was confronted in Sun Valley with a scenario drawn up this week by Citigroup analyst Jason Bazinet in which Liberty could buy 100% control of DirecTV Group after reaching an agreement to acquire a controlling stake in the satellite TV giant in December.

Maffei told Reuters on the sidelines of the mogul retreat that Liberty could see benefits from such a move and a spinoff of DirecTV in another tracking stock.

DirecTV is "a good business, and having access to those cash flows, being able to have it operate synergistically with our content businesses, can be attractive under the right conditions," Reuters quoted the Liberty executive as saying.

He said that the company has not made a decision and suggested that it also could simply liquidate its position in DirecTV in the future.

On Thursday, CNN's Anderson Cooper moderated a panel on content and strategy with Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin, Sony Corp. chairman and CEO Howard Stringer and IAC chairman and CEO Barry Diller, reports said.

Fortune magazine on its Web site quoted Brin as telling reporters afterward that competitor Yahoo Inc.'s much-discussed problems were largely overblown.

On Wednesday, Time Warner chairman and CEO Richard Parsons and his likely successor, president and COO Jeffrey Bewkes, gave a presentation about the digital future of the world's largest media conglomerate with a focus on the online and TV spaces, according to a source familiar with the situation. A TW spokesman declined comment on details of the presentation.

Besides the panels, group lunches and other outings allowed for the popular schmoozing opportunities in Idaho. However, a planned rafting outing didn't happen because of fires that blocked access to the river.

Nonetheless, bloggers and reporters in Sun Valley reported sightings of groups of industry executives. Former Viacom Inc. CEO Tom Freston, who sources said was in Sun Valley in his role as head of his new investment firm Firefly3 Llc., was seen with former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, who also spent time with Bewkes and Parsons, reports said. Freston also was seen with representatives of online TV startup Joost.

Among other industry attendees and luminaries spotted in Sun Valley were New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Brad Grey, the Weinstein Co.'s Harvey Weinstein, BET founder Robert Johnson, eBay CEO Meg Whitman, Amazon chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos and CBS Interactive president Quincy Smith.

Ning co-founders Marc Andreessen, one of the founders of Netscape, and Gina Bianchini, who serves as the social networking enabler's CEO, seemed to be taking advantage of all the Sun Valley gathering has to offer.

"I'm at a conference this week and have less blogging time than I had hoped -- postings will resume this weekend," Andreessen wrote on his blog.

Ning, which had been financed mainly by him and a small group of angel investors who are friends and colleagues, has received a $44 million financing round -- its first with outside investors -- led by Legg Mason, Andreessen said.

"We are substantially expanding our product plans," he wrote. "We have a long list of features and product capabilities we plan to add as fast as we possibly can -- and, we want to staff up our ability to support our members and developers as they find ever more creative ways to use our platform."

The round was "orchestrated by our friends at Allen and Co. in New York," Andreessen wrote, giving kudos to the Sun Valley organizers.