Sun Valley Dealmaking Confab Kicks Off
I just landed in Sun Valley for the annual Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley. There are only a handful of private jets in the airport right now, but in just a few hours it'll be packed with jets whose tail numbers tell the story of some of the richest men in America.
Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's Chairman (WMT) who CNBC hasn't spotted here in the past five years is getting an early start on the week, he's already been spotted in Sun Valley village. Greeters waiting for attendees were lined up by the baggage claim. The 250 or so attendees will take over the Sun Valley Inn, Lodge and many of the condos, and will rent most of the bikes in town for the kids. And Allen & Co. covers all the costs of the four-day summer camp for CEOs, surely millions of dollars. With all the money spent in town on everything from ice cream to jewelry, not to mention restaurants, it's a welcome respite from the downturn in tourism that has hit the town.
The moguls attend panels in the morning on topics like fixing healthcare- expected to be a big issue this year. In summers past Joel Klein, the chancellor of New York City Schools led a panel on fixing the education system and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos doing a demo of the Kindle demo from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (AMZN). In the afternoon everyone heads out for activities like river rafting or biking in beautiful Sun Valley. At night they drift to the bar at the Lodge to talk shop, whispering about the future of media.
The goal is to bring the movers and shakers in media (and now increasingly the Internet) together so ideas for deals can percolate. And Allen & Co is waiting in the wings, ready to facilitate. It's always interesting to see which newcomers Allen & Co has added to the list. This year Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Evan Williams are both expected to attend for the first. They've both told me within the past month that they're not interested in selling their companies, but we can certainly expect them to be the "it" boys of the event.
While only some of the CEOs here are known for their great height, everyone's going to be craning their heads up at LeBron James, the celebrity pick of the year. (Last year it was Rachel Ray). In addition to his career on the court, James has a marketing company. And Corey Booker, the young mayor of Newark with big aspirations in the Democratic party is expected to make his first appearance.
The list of regulars reads like a who's who: Bill Gates, Google's co-founders and Warren Buffet. All the media conglomerate chiefs should be there: Sumner Redstone, Jeff Bewkes, Jeff ZuckerBob Iger and Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp possee including new COO Chase Carey and MySpace's new head. Maybe they should all sit down over lunch to tackle the big challenge facing the industry: how to monetize digital distribution to compensate for losses in analog dollars. I'll be watching to see which of the moguls are particularly intimate; there's been ongoing talk about the need for consolidation and the potential for studio mergers.
Will any deals happen because of this conference? Debt financing is scarce thanks to the economy and valuations are so low, one would understand why an acquisition target would be reluctant to sell. But some of these companies, like Time Warner, have enough cash on their balance sheet that they could make a buy. (They're also talking about spinning off AOL, we'll see if there are any potential buyers here).
Journalists aren't invited to cover the event, though some like Anderson Cooper in the past and CNBC's own Erin Burnettthis year, are invited to participate.
I'll be blogging and tweeting updates from the event. Check back in here and follow me on Twitter: JBoorstin.
Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com