Time to get down to business

Execs at Sun Valley keep things light on Day 1 — but that's likely to change

Several hundred major media executives at Herb Allen's annual retreat in this remote Northwest niche thought they could get away from it all, including the ongoing labor strife 900 miles to the south. But they were at least partially wrong.

SAG, with alarming dexterity and surprising alacrity, took out a full-page ad in the local Sun Valley paper, the Idaho Mountain Express, that said simply: "WE WANT A DEAL."

It was aimed squarely at the Hollywood moguls who have coalesced here so far, including Universal's Ron Meyer, DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, Sony's Howard Stringer and Michael Lynton, Disney's Robert Iger, Paramount's Brad Grey, CBS' Leslie Moonves, Viacom's Philippe Dauman and NBC's Jeff Zucker.

Talent agents in attendance here — Jim Wiatt of WMA, Bryan Lourd and Richard Lovett of CAA, Jeff Berg and Chris Silbermann of ICM and Jim Berkus of UTA among them — were no doubt in SAG's sights as well.

Sony's Stringer didn't duck the salvo. "Unfortunately for SAG, we don't see that newspaper up here," he said. "It's not delivered to us."

There is some truth to Stringer's claim, though the paper is available all over Sun Valley. Better to say, the execs just don't bother to read it.

Time Warner president and CEO Jeff Bewkes was equally noncommittal about the ad. "Good for SAG," he said when handed a copy.

Bewkes clearly had other things on his mind here, including one or another possible deal in the making, with Yahoo being talked up the most.

And in fact, despite the faint echoes of the actors' woes heard up here, the incessant hum of the conference centers very much on what will happen with Yahoo — and its on-again, off-again suitor Microsoft. A number of the parties to the discussion are said to be en route.

Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, who is due to arrive in Sun Valley on Thursday, already rejected a $33-per-share bid from Microsoft in May. He was holding out for $37.

Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor and indefatigable scourge of corporate incompetents, also is bruited to be headed to Sun Valley. Icahn owns about 4 percent of Yahoo, which he reportedly bought for $25 a share. He's been pushing for a sale of the company and the ouster of some members of its board.

Gordon Crawford, who runs Yahoo's largest investor Capital Research Global Investors, has been steering clear of reporters at Sun Valley, but scuttlebutt is he will be huddling with Microsoft dealmaker Henry Vigil and former chairman Bill Gates — who arrives Friday — to discuss the various scenarios.

In other news from Sun Valley on Day 1, Allen's little secret of his guest speaker inadvertently leaked out when a photographer noticed the organizers raising a Jordanian flag.

As soon as journalists began putting two and two together, Allen's people hastened to take the flag down. But it was too late to hide the fact that Jordan's King Abdullah was on his way to make a presentation.

Apart from trying to avoid talk of a potential Hollywood strike or giving away anything substantive to the two dozen journalists staking out the event, the top-flight executive phalanx that has shown up so far has variously indulged in rubber rafting, golf, cycling, meeting up for talks and whooping it up at night.

On Tuesday night, Wiatt was spotted in the Sun Valley Lodge bar along with mutual funds maven Mario Gabelli, Scripps Howard head Ken Lowe, former Viacom topper Tom Freston and, somewhat oddly, TV chef Rachael Ray.

Lowe and Gabelli spent much of the evening lamenting the ongoing failure of so many among print publications and the looming shift of readers and advertisers to the Internet.

There have been lighter moments on the hiking and riding paths.

IAC chairman Barry Diller had been keeping a low profile at the conference until he almost ran over Rupert Murdoch's wife Wendy on his bicycle.

"Where are you going, Wendy?" he asked.

"I'm going to get some yoga pants," she replied.

"What are yogurt pants?" Diller queried.

"No, yoga pants — you know, to do yoga in," she said.

"Yogurt pants," Diller persisted.

Murdoch turned and went on her way.