CEOs, deals in focus at 'summer camp for moguls'

The Sun Valley Inn ahead of the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Sun Valley Inn ahead of the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference

It's been called summer camp for moguls. But between bike rides, hikes and whitewater rafting, deals are being made.

This week boutique bank Allen & Co. is hosting its annual conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, gathering billionaire investors, media heavyweights and tech titans to spark conversation and broker deals. The private jets start landing Tuesday afternoon; panel discussions and speakers start Wednesday morning on topics ranging from national security to education and continue through the week, until it's wheels up again on Saturday.

Attendees are captains of industry: Disney CEO Bob Iger, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Warren Buffett and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are among the returning regulars. This year there are new giants on the list: GM CEO Mary Barra, Tesla and SpaceX's Elon Musk, and IBM's Ginny Rometty.

Allen & Co also highlights a selection of hot start-ups. This year, AirBNB's CEO Brian Chesky, Snapchat's Evan Spiegel, Nextdoor's Nirav Tolia, and EventBrite's Julia Hartz are expected to attend.

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Notably, there are more women on the list than in recent years. In addition to Barra, Rometty and Hartz, Spanx CEO Sara Blakey is attending for the first time, along with Grokker CEO Lorna Borenstein. But even though the number has grown, there are still fewer than two dozen total.

The annual gathering has a long history of sparking deals.

At the conference last summer, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong sat down with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, sewing the seeds for Verizon's $4.4 billion acquisition of AOL. The year before, conversations at the conference led to Jeff Bezos' purchase of The Washington Post.

Past Sun Valley deals have turned media giants into behemoths, as meetings at the mountain resort planted the seeds for Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal.

It's also where tech leaders come to find the next big thing, like YouTube in 2006. Google's Eric Schmidt spent time with the start-up's founder there, before the search giant snapped it up for $1.7 billion. Though not all deals that emerged from here have fared as well, such as AOL's acquisition of Time Warner.

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Who's next? With Charter Communications buying Time Warner Cable and AT&T acquiring DirecTV, we should expect talk of more content and distribution consolidation. Companies with international exposure, such as Discovery Communications and Liberty Global offer access to fast-growing markets. And with movie studios focusing on fewer, bigger blockbusters, we could see some attention paid to the few independent smaller studios, including Lionsgate, which may be part of some John Malone consolidation play, and Dreamworks Animation, which longtime Sun Valley attendee Jeffrey Katzenberg has been shopping for some time.

And then, of course, there are potential digital content deals in the wake of Verizon's buying of AOL. While last year at this time there was speculation about a Yahoo-AOL merger, Marissa Meyer's company could be in the deal spotlight again as it nears the completion of its spin-off of its Alibaba stake at the end of the year. With Twitter hunting for a new permanent CEO in the wake of Dick Costolo's stepping down, we'll see if CFO Anthony Noto or interim CEO Jack Dorsey—all three listed as attending—meet with any potential suitors.

This year we might hear some talk about the rising cost of sports rights. Every sports commissioner is on the list, plus several sports team owners, including Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox.