The 26th annual Allen & Co. conference kicked off Tuesday night with the arrival of a parade of the biggest moguls in media and technology. They're here to talk shop and make deals with the deepest pockets and smartest minds in private equity and venture capital.
This event has sparked some of the biggest media deals, from Google's acquisition of YouTube to the Disney-CapCities merger in 1996. This year there's no avoiding the fact that the economy is in a downturn and the credit markets are tight, but it's not keeping the big names from rolling in.
Warren Buffett, Time WarnerCEO Jeff Bewkes, Viacom's CEO Philppe Dauman, money man Henry Kravitz, Hollywood super agent Michael Ovitz, News Corp'sRupert Murdoch and sons James and Lachlan all arrived Tuesday afternoon. And many of the big names we talked to acknowledged the economic realities, but were still optimistic.
David Zaslav, looking forward to Discovery Communications upcoming IPO, pointed out that while the entire advertising market is hurting, cable is holding up quite well. Disney CEO Bob Iger, basking in the success of "Wall-E," wouldn't comment on Lehman Bros. downgrade earlier this week, but said he'll talk about how the company's holding up in the economic downturn when Disney reports earnings on July 30. Ron Myer, CEO of Universal Pictures, said he's pleased with how the summer movie season is going so far. "Wanted" opened very strong, just over a week ago. William Morris CEO Jim Wiatt pointed out that while the economy is tight that doesn't mean the right deals won't happen.
And then there are the startups at the conference, in the spotlight for their innovative technologies, cast in the light of potential acquisition targets. Which ones are hot enough, even in this cooling economy, to merit an investment? Spotrunner's CEO Nick Grouf is here for his third year. And while he says he's not looking to be acquired, the company's do-it-yourself low cost online ad business is doing such phenomenal business this election year, it's bound to draw interest. Also in the spotlight are Bill Me Later's Gary Marino, Slide Inc's Max Levchin (a founder of PayPay) and WeatherBill's David Freidberg, who are reportedly on a "New Breed" panel on Friday. Social news site Digg's Jay Adelson is buzzing around, as are the founders of online video site Joost.
I spoke with one of last year's "New Breed," Slingmedia CEO Blake Krikorian about where they've come in the past year. SlingBox's "place-shifting" technology that allows you to access your television anywhere was a hot topic last year. One reason Krikorian was smiling (in addition to the golf), he says the economic slowdown hasn't hurt SlingBox sales a bit.
What we're watching for? News on Yahoo'spotential deal with Microsoftand whatever alternatives may emerge. Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang is expected here, as are Bill Gates and Microsoft's acquisitions chief Hank Vigil. I'm going to be watching carefully to see who exactly Yang shmoozes with. Will it be the Google Guys? Time Warner's Bewkes? Murdoch? We shall see.
I'll continue to blog the buzz- so check in often!
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