The Allen & Co media conference is officially underway, with all the heavy hitters flooding into the Sun Valley Lodge for the first day of panels this morning.
The list of attendees spanned from Wall Street to Hollywood to Silicon Valley.
We caught KKR's Henry Kravis, American Express CEO Ken Chenault, News Corp's Rupert Murdoch, IAC's Barry Diller and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg heading in for today's first panel on "The Future of Entertainment in the Digital Age." Ken Auletta, the journalist who coined the phrase "summer camp for media moguls," moderated a panel with Diller, Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.
Media and tech stock prices may be up about a third from a year ago and companies have strengthened their balance sheets, the economy is still weighing on CEO's minds, as is the impact of financial regulation.
Disney CEO Bob Iger tells us he's monitoring legislative changes and economic decisions, though he doesn't expect regulation to change much for Disney. But Iger did say he'd love to see America have greater ability to export, as entertainment is already one of the nations biggest exports.
BET founder Bob Johnson told me that the attendees here at Sun Valley are concerned about the deficit and the nation's high debt levels. He said changes to capital gains tax and the like raises fears "about where government is going and how much of a role government is going to play in controlling what businesses do best and that's invest capital."
Another topic taxing media giants is the billion-dollar question: how to monetize digital distribution?
Murdoch is at one end of the spectrum, pushing to eventually get subscription revenue from all of his newspapers. Towards the other end is Demand Media's Richard Rosenblatt, whose low cost content is free and ad supported.
Everyone agrees that there's room for a range of models along this spectrum, the question is: where's the real money? Discovery CEO David Zaslav told me yesterday that he supports Murdoch's push to establish a new subscription strategy.
Blake Krikorian, who sold Sling Media's "place-shifting" technology to EchoStar two and a half years ago, said this is media giants' biggest challenge: giving away content for free didn't work, so now it's back to the drawing board. Krikorian says he expects Murdoch's pay walls to be one example of the slew of experimentation we're sure to see in coming years.
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