Sun Valley: Shari Redstone Takes Center Stage as Media Moguls Gather

Shari Redstone - Bob Iger -Tom Staggs -Split H 2016
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images; Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images; Steve Granitz/WireImage

Amid the personal dramas, there are barbecues, horseback riding, rafting, biking and other activities, and many will engage in off-the-record business talk at the confab famous for spawning blockbuster media deals.

Media and tech moguls are mixing in Sun Valley, Idaho, on Wednesday for the first full session of the annual Allen & Co. summit, where everything from the U.K.’s Brexit vote to the U.S. presidential race to burgeoning corporate dealmaking is on the agenda.

Some 300 power players received a coveted invitation for the annual confab, where attendees turn out for panel discussions, barbecues, rafting and plenty of one-on-one meetings. But it's those off-the-record conversations that invariably get the most attention since the conference has led to many of the media world’s biggest blockbuster deals — think Time Warner’s acquisition of AOL, Disney’s buy of Capital Cities/ABC and Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal.

And there have been a number of recent transformative deals that might get executives talking. Media mogul John Malone last week orchestrated a $4.4 billion deal to combine Lionsgate and cable programmer Starz, and that follows Comcast's $3.9 billion purchase of DreamWorks Animation earlier this year.

"It is likely that consolidation will be discussed," says Drexel Hamilton analyst Tony Wible. "The industry will also need to focus on ways to monetize viewing as cord-cutting continues to grow."

There’s also certain to be some personal drama amid the deal talk. Viacom and CBS board member Shari Redstone, whose family trust owns both companies, was spotted arriving at the tony Sun Valley Lodge on Tuesday. Redstone has drawn the most attention because she and Viacom chairman Philippe Dauman are in the midst of a dramatic legal fight over the future of the company and the potential sale of a major stake in Viacom’s Paramount Pictures as the health of her father, Sumner Redstone, deteriorates.

Also attending is Leslie Moonves, CBS’ chairman and chief executive, who was seen by the gathered media driving Shari Redstone to dinner on Tuesday. There has been heavy speculation on Wall Street that Redstone might like to see a merger between CBS and Viacom — with Moonves leading the combined media giant.

Comcast's Brian Roberts is expected to attend this year. And Disney is well-represented, with CEO Bob Iger arriving Thursday and meeting Disney-ABC TV chief Ben Sherwood and ESPN head John Skipper. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, former Disney COO Tom Staggs is attending despite leaving the company after being dropped as heir apparent to Iger

The guest list, though not made public, this year is said to include other heavy hitters: 21st Century Fox executives and board members Rupert, James and Lachlan Murdoch; Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav (one of the few moguls to stop and talk to the reporters gathered in front of the entrance to the lodge, according to reports); Scripps Networks Interactive CEO Ken Lowe; Apple CEO Tim Cook; Activision/Blizzard CEO Bobby KotickIAC chairman Barry Diller; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg; Paramount chief Brad Grey; and New England Patriots owner (and former Viacom board member) Robert Kraft.

Such celebrities as Jerry Seinfeld, who has said via a rep that he won't go, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Brokaw also are invited. Also, some of the wealthiest people in the world are expected this week, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Facebook investor Peter Thiel should also be there, perhaps with fresh tales to tell about his war against Gawker Media that involved him secretly funding Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against the controversial outlet. 

Not attending, though, is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who is shopping the core assets of the company (which don't include stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan, apparently) for roughly $4 billion. And while Chris Silbermann, founding partner of ICM Partners, and former superagents Mike Ovitz and Jeff Berg are in attendance, current WME-IMG co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell are sitting the event out. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam is expected to be there, though, and his company is allegedly a frontrunner in the bidding for Mayer's Yahoo, a process that should end in mid-July.

The Sun Valley mogul-fest was launched after investment bank Allen & Co. sold its controlling stake in Columbia Pictures to Coca-Cola in 1982. Industry power players often have used the exclusive event not only to casually discuss business opportunities, but also to listen to guest speakers talk about various geopolitical topics, hence one of the planned discussions will be led by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker on the topic of "free trade in a post-Brexit world," as CNBC put it. New Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is expected to participate in a talk with former U.S. senator Bill Bradley.

Also expected to attend are major players from the world of digital startups, all hoping for the same kind of megadeal like when Google's then-CEO Eric Schmidt met up with YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley in 2006. Three months later, the leader in search bought the fledgling online-video company for $1.65 billion. The list of Silicon Valley companies to be represented includes names like SnapchatAirbnb and Pinterest.