Is it the next big thing or isn't it? That was one question discussed in the halls and around the lunch tables at the Allen and Company annual retreat in Sun Valley. Yes, there was plenty of talk about the economy and a big focus on healthcare, but when it comes to the next big thing, none of the startups here offer silver bullets for digital content monetization. The hot young things here are the there social media companies. In the spotlight: Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter, Mark Pincus, CEO of Facebook application company Zynga, and Sam Altman, CEO of Loopt.com.
Media conglomerate CEOs couldn't help but weigh in. Sony CEO Howard Stringer, when asked about MySpace and social networking in general, joked that there are a lot of people in the social networking space that are very successful without making a lot of money. He also said "that's a club I don't want to join." News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch also said he's not interested in buying Twitter, dispelling some rumors. He's busy trying to streamline and focus MySpace to compete with the private social media sites that have now surpassed it. And yesterday I blogged about how John Malone isn't counting on social media.
It seems like no deal activity around social media will come out of this week in Sun Valley. The media giants are wary of investing in companies that don't have significant profits, and more specifically wary of the valuations. But I think it's worth noting that all the heavy hitters are watching and examining these businesses. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes joked that he's too long winded to be a big user of Twitter himself, 140 characters aren't enough. But in that joke lies the fact that everyone's paying attention.
And on the other hand, the venture capitalists here couldn't be more excited about social media. Earlier today James Robinson, managing partner of RRE Ventures, talked on Squawk on the Street about how confident he is that social media companies like Twitter will have no problem becoming profitable. I talked to him off camera about some of the companies that have piqued his interest in the space, including those that bring GPS and map capabilities to social connections. I also sat down with Marc Andreessen about his investments in such a range of social media companies, pretty much every big out there, from LinkedIn to Digg. And he advises both Twitter and Facebook. He wouldn't go so far as to say that one of these social media companies would be the next Netscape, but he did say he's confident they will be huge and profitable through a combo of ads and subscriptions.
Even Warren Buffett had something to say about social media. He told me he really enjoyed meeting Twitter CEO Evan Williams, who it happens, is also from Nebraska.
For more from my interview with Warren Buffett click here: Buffet in Sun Valley
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