Sun Valley Confab Kicks Off

Sun Valley, Idaho
The Other Image | The Image Bank | Getty Images
Sun Valley, Idaho

The G4s are landing in Idaho and the Sun Valley resort is rolling out the red carpet for the biggest names in media, technology and private equity.

Boutique investment bank Allen & Co is readying for its annual conference, nicknamed "summer camp for moguls." Media and tech titans and the private equity players drawn to them will arrive this afternoon for a week of activities and networking.

CEO regulars including News Corp's Rupert Murdoch, Disney's Bob Iger, Google's Eric Schmidt, along with KKR founder Henry Kravis, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are all expected within hours.

The wild card is Apple's Steve Jobs, who has sat the last three years out. His name is on Allen & Co's preliminary list of attendees, but it's unclear whether he'll show up, and if he does, whether he'll be attending any of the scheduled activities, or just meeting behind closed doors.

The activities get high marks from attendees, many have told me it's their favorite conference of the year. In the morning Allen & Co hosts panels on topics like national security, education and digital distribution. Over lunch old friends, rivals and potential new partners catch up and discuss possible deals. In the afternoons the moguls and their kids go white water rafting, hiking and biking.

The big question: what deals will come from this year's gathering?

The annual confab has sparked a fair share of mergers & acquisitions. Last year the seeds were sewn for the $30 billion NBC Universal—Comcastmerger. And back in 2006 this is where the conversations started for Google's acquisition of YouTube.

And when they're not making deals there are plenty of hot topics sure to dominate lunch-table conversation. As Rupert Murdoch launches paywalls for some of his UK papers: how will media companies monetize content online? What's the value of social media and location based services? How should tech giants protect user privacy? And how will cloud computing change software and content access?

The mood should be more upbeat than last year, as media and tech stock valuations have grown by one third and the ad market has started to recover. Companies like Microsoft, Apple , News Corp, and Google have war chests of cash on their balance sheets, certainly enough capital to make deals.

Speculation is brewing that Disney'slooking for a buyer for ABC and Barry Diller's looking for a buyer for IAC/Interactive Corp's And there are rumors that Microsoft's interested in buying AOL.

And as always the spotlight is on the private startups in attendance, handpicked as potential acquisitions or partners for the giants here. Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg is returning, bringing along COO Sheryl Sandberg for the first time. Zynga CEO Marc Pincus is returning as well. His social games company, known for Facebook games Farmville and Mafia Wars, is considered a hot acquisition target or potential IPO.

There are a handful of newcomers expected this year. Dennis Crowley, CEO of location-based social network FourSquare, and Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon, a web site that enables social buying for a discount are both on the list.

A welcome dinner kicks off the week at 6 tonight. Panels begin first thing in the morning.

Questions? Comments?