Sun Valley Summit: How Mergers and #MeToo Could Complicate Deals

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Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner attend the third day of the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in 2017.

Unease between CBS' Leslie Moonves and boss Shari Redstone could inject some awkwardness into the annual high-powered media exec gathering.

Private and corporate jets were landing Monday in Sun Valley, Idaho, for the media industry’s annual cult of secrecy — a gathering hosted by Allen & Co., a boutique bank popular among the movers and shakers in Hollywood.

At this year’s event, journalists are again forbidden — unless they happen to be so elite they make it onto the guest list for the purpose of hobnobbing, not reporting — but if past is prelude it’s no secret what will go on behind the walls of the posh Sun Valley Resort: moguls will talk politics, lay the groundwork for the next big merger or two and enjoy a level of opulence few of their customers could ever hope to afford.

Of course, it may not be all fun and games because, as usual, things could get awkward if certain guests run into certain other guests, like last year when Ivanka Trump circulated among the very media barons whose outlets were being so hostile to her father, Donald Trump — at least in the opinion of the president.

This year, the unease might primarily be focused on Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS, which is suing National Amusements, run by Shari Redstone, and both are expected at the gathering. Moonves has apparently grown weary of the control National Amusements wields over CBS via voting shares so he’s trying to dilute them lest Redstone try to force CBS to merge with Viacom, whose CEO, Bob Bakish, is not expected at the gathering.

And then there’s Disney CEO Bob Iger and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. The two invitees are haggling over the bulk of the assets of 21st Century Fox, including the film and TV studio, the FX and Nat Geo cable channels, and its stakes in Hulu and Sky, the European satellite TV service. Iger thought he had a deal for $52.4 billion until Roberts offered $65 billion, necessitating Iger’s latest bid of $71.3 billion. Suffice it to say, there’s little love lost between the two moguls.

The beneficiaries of this bidding war are Fox co-executive chairmen Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch and CEO James Murdoch, who will no doubt be living it up at this year’s Sun Valley conference knowing they’re about to sell a portion of their company for twice what the whole thing was worth six years ago. After the sale, Rupert and his sons will still control the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, FS1, FS2 and the Fox broadcast network, altogether worth about $19 billion.

Others expected at the gathering, which officially kicks off on Wednesday with panel discussions and cocktail parties, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee chairman Casey Wasserman and former Hollywood superagent Michael Ovitz.

Among those elite journalists expected this year are Anderson Cooper and Van Jones of CNN, Gayle King of CBS, Becky Quick of CNBC and NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw, who has been accused of harassing women. Brokaw has denied the allegations against him. 

Not invited this year is former attendee Harvey Weinstein, who faces rape charges and whose alleged behavior over a few decades was the catalyst for Hollywood’s #MeToo movement. The Weinstein Co., a studio with a library that includes Django Unchained, The King’s Speech and dozens of other popular titles, is being sold to Lantern Capital for $289 million, a fraction of what it was worth before the allegations against its co-founder were revealed last year in articles in The New Yorker and The New York Times.

As for those deals that have been hatched at least in part at past Allen & Co. gatherings, the biggest and least successful was the 1999 merger of AOL and Time Warner. More recently, Jeff Bezos, who is expected this year, as well, met with representatives of The Washington Post at 2013’s gathering and he later purchased the newspaper for $250 million.

For the most notable deals that can be traced back to the annual gathering at Sun Valley, a list is here.