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Sun Valley Kicks Off With Hulu, IMG, and Hot Start-Ups on the Table

Sun Valley will host corporate leaders for the 31st annual Allen & Co. media and technology conference, where powerful players gather for weeklong meetings, which began Tuesday.
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Sun Valley will host corporate leaders for the 31st annual Allen & Co. media and technology conference, where powerful players gather for weeklong meetings, which began Tuesday.

Boutique investment bank Allen & Co. kicked off its annual media and tech conference Tuesday afternoon, with about 300 media moguls, tech titans, start-up CEOs, and high-profile VCs and investors gathering in Sun Valley, Idaho.

This annual off-the-record conference (panels and speakers in the morning; hiking, golf, biking, and rafting in the afternoon; schmoozing nonstop) has been nicknamed "summer camp for moguls."

And for the past 30 years, it has been a key destination for megadeals to be hatched, including Disney's acquisition of Cap Cities/ABC in 1995, Time Warner and AOL's merger in 1999 and Comcast's purchase of NBC Universal in 2009.

The attendees are a who's who of power players: CEOs of all the media companies; Google's top four execs; studio chiefs; and star VCs, including Marc Andreessen and Peter Thiel. But Allen & Co. also invites those expected to be the next generation of heavy hitters. This year, four Facebook execs are on the list—more than any company other than Google—a sign of the social network's growing buying power.

Start-up CEOs expected to show up represent multibillion-dollar acquisition targets and upcoming IPOs. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is here, along with co-founder Jack Dorsey, who is also CEO of mobile payments company Square. It is one of three mobile payments companies here, along with Stripe and LemonWallet, a sign that the space is heating up.

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston is coming after wrapping up its developer conference. The cloud storage company is expected to file for an IPO within a year. Other hot start-ups here include Airbnb, Palantir Technologies and Evernote.

As media deals ratchet up (there is already more than three times the M&A and spinoff volume as at this time last year) a number of sizzling assets are on the table.

Hulu is in the spotlight. Binding final bids were due this past Friday, and bidders are expecting to hear some response this week, hoping that the parent companies will start exclusive negotiatiations.

Hulu's three parents will be at the conference: Disney's Bob Iger, News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch, and Comcast's Brian Roberts, as well as NBCU's Steve Burke, (though Comcast isn't participating in negotiations because of the terms of its buyout of NBCU).

Two of the three primary bidders are also coming: DirecTV's CEO Mike White and Sun Valley regular Peter Chernin are on the leaked list, though no representative of partner AT&T appears.

Ross Levinsohn of Guggenheim Digital Media, now out of the bidding for Hulu, is not coming.

With Hulu on the block two times in as many years, the pressure is on to land a deal. If the media giant parents decide they don't want to sell to a content distributor such as DirecTV or AT&T and to retain the asset, they may partner with Time Warner Cable. Its chief, Glenn Britt, will be here. As we've reported in the past, he's not interested in buying Hulu outright but would like to invest.

Harriet Taylor | CNBC

Another big asset on the block: Sports agency IMG, which is expected to sell for as much as $2 billion in the next few months. The company doesn't have a representative at the conference, but two determined bidders are here: Creative Arts Agency's Bryan Lourd and Wasserman Media Group CEO Casey Wasserman.

Cable consolidation will be another topic of conversation. Liberty Media's John Malone made a play for Time Warner Cable that Britt rebuffed. With both showing up, we'll be watching to see if they break bread at lunch at the duck pond.

And with News Corp. sitting on $2.6 billion in cash and no debt, we can expect some big acquisitions in publishing and education.

The CEOs also will discuss the matters that will define the future of their industries and the economy. Based on the list of participants, we expect the conference to feature panels on education, global security and health care. We can also anticipate plenty of talk about the economy, the impact of global political uncertainty and general political chatter in this first Sun Valley since the sequester and the postponement of the health-care mandate.

Then there are the issues more specific to media and tech. They include the state of the IPO market, the valuations of start-ups and what kind of threat Barry Diller's Aereo poses to the media business. Even more granular, we can expect chatter about Microsoft's reorganization, which is expected to be announced Thursday, and Zynga's executive shake-up. Its chairman and former CEO is expected to attendd, though new CEO (and former Microsoft executive) Don Mattrick will remain at Zynga headquarters.

Who's absent? Yahoo's Marissa Mayer isn't here, nor is Disney TV Chief Anne Sweeney, a frequent attendee in the past. And, of course, Murdoch's soon-to-be ex, Wendi Deng. In fact, of almost 300 attendees, fewer than 20 are women.

Comcast owns CNBC parent NBCUniversal.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin. Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.