At Sun Valley, media CEOs expect a big new wave of M&A in the industry

Key Points
  • CBS CEO Les Moonves said the company isn't looking for deals now, but would consider CNN if it became available: "CNN is a very worthy news organization."
  • IAC's Barry Diller: "I think consolidation is necessary but that doesn't mean that it's necessarily smart."
  • Discovery CEO David Zaslav expects distributors, such as cable companies and telcos, to keep making deals with content creators.
Les Moonves announces big partnership between CBS and BBC

The annual Allen & Co conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, gathers CEOs across media and technology, plus big-name investors, making it a natural destination for dealmaking. The conversations that happen behind closed doors here have birthed the biggest media deals of the past quarter century, including Comcast's acquisition of CNBC's parent NBC Universal, Verizon's purchase of AOL, and the ill-fated combination of AOL and Time Warner.

CEOs attending this year told CNBC they expect a new wave of media consolidation, with AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner shedding a spotlight on distribution companies' need for content to differentiate their services.

Plus there's pressure from streaming companies and cord cutting on traditional business models, raising questions of whether content companies -- or cable channels -- will need to consolidate for economies of scale and better negotiating leverage. Plus, the Trump administration's lighter regulatory touch could enable more deals to go through.

CBS CEO Les Moonves says he didn't know of any deal-making talks going on at Sun Valley, and is not on the lookout for any deals himself. "We're really happy, we've been saying for a while, with the hand we have right now," said Moonves in an exclusive interview on CNBC.

Moonves shot down the rumor that CBS was interested in buying Lionsgate, but said if CNN were to come up for sale, he'd definitely look at it: "CNN is a very worthy news organization... it's something that could enhance CBS. But I don't think that's on the table right now. If it came up later on, it would be something we would look at."

"We at Disney bought Capital Cities ABC here. I think we were the first big one," said former Disney CEO Michael Eisner of Sun Valley's reputation as a destination for deal-making. "What do I think about deregulation? Good and bad. It's good that it opens up a lot of activity and a lot of consolidation. And it's bad when it's too consolidated."

Discovery CEO David Zaslav said that while he "feels pretty good about how we are right now in terms of size," he pointed to the consolidation he's seeing across the US and Europe between distributors and content companies: "There's a consolidation to be offering cable, broadband and phone. And more and more they're looking like a pipe, and they need more and more content to differentiate and de-commoditize that pipe, so there's a lot of discussions going onto."

Barry Diller on Trump: Hopefully will be over soon

Barry Diller, Chairman of IAC and Expedia, said "I think consolidation is necessary but that doesn't mean that it's necessarily smart."

He pointed to his own strategy of spinning off companies from his IAC, rather than merging. "Consolidation is good when you are no longer growing and there is no growth in let's say your sector, so you consolidate and cut costs and do all those things. But while I think it will continue, I don't myself believe in it."

Diller said the push to consolidate is coming from the challenges facing the traditional media players now.

"They no longer have any real pricing power. What the Internet has done is taken away pricing power," says Diller. "It used to be that whenever you had a closed system -- the cable closed system, network system -- it's fairly easy to raise prices. When those systems are invaded by the Internet, by the Internet's ability to go direct, they're all vulnerable."