Sun Valley's Scarlet Letter
General Assignment Reporter
When a Sony-led band of investors announced in November a deal to buy EMI's music publishing business, the deal was expected to take "several months" to close. It was pure serendipity that it closed just before the media industry's biggest event — the mogul-fest hosted in Sun Valley, Idaho by boutique bank Allen & Co.
"If the deal hadn't closed by this week, we wouldn't have attended," said one conference-goer familiar with the transaction. "You can't walk around here with something hanging over your head like that."
Similarly, companies with unfinished deals or problematic headlines have avoided the conference, usually a hotbed of affable networking among heavy-hitters.
Instead, Sony's Kaz Hirai — a newly minted chief executive, who has already forfeited a bonus and inherited steep profit losses — was gregariously chatting in the lobby of the Sun Valley Resort on one of the last nights of the conference.
"My first priority is fixing the TV business," Hirai told CNBC. "But my background is in entertainment, so I'm thrilled we finally closed the publishing deal." The deal was also a swan song for Sir Howard Stringer, who exited the top spot at the struggling electronics company on April 1.
So who ducked the spotlight this year?
Former Yahoo! chairman Roy Bostock was reported to be on a preliminary roster, but didn't show during the conference. Bostock was forced out as chair as pressure mounted from investor Dan Loeb to re-stock the board and oust the board's then-recent CEO choice, Scott Thompson. Though several months have passed, attention turned to Yahoo! during the conference as shareholder and board meetings fell smack in the middle of the week.
Groupon chief executive Andrew Mason also elected not to attend this year's confab, nixing his previous RSVP. At the 2011 conference, Mason was camera-shy (it was the company's IPO quiet period, after all), but carrying his head high.
Since Groupon went public in November of last year, the company has been embroiled by an earnings revision, continued competition, and an impatient rollout of new products. During the week of the conference, Groupon shares — already 57 percent below the IPO price — fell another 5 percent as of mid-day trading on Friday.
One executive who probably should have skipped? Bobby Kotick, CEO ofActivision Blizzard
. At past Sun Valley conferences, Kotick has been well-known for his candor and media-friendliness. But with a majority stake in his company
by its current owner — Vivendi Universal — Kotick appeared sheepish, using New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a buffer to reporters while exiting the bar Thursday evening.
Asked how he was enjoying the conference, Kotick's reply: "It's great weather."
When a question about the Vivendi sale soon followed, Kotick again replied: "It's great weather."
-By CNBC's Kayla Tausche
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