The Hills are Alive in Sun Valley


This weekend, we celebrated America: Its rolling hills, its stars and stripes, and the entrepreneurial spirit that makes it tick.

This week, hundreds of media moguls from Silicon Valley and Hollywood alike are descending upon Sun Valley, Idaho, to continue that celebration. The annual conference, hosted by inclusive investment bank Allen & Co., is roaring into its 29th year—with no shortage of content up for discussion.

They'll likely toss around the relationship between old media and new media as the chasm appears to widen. They’ll probably encounter the (now-) tired question of whether we’re in a tech bubble and will toss around ideas about current valuations for companies like Zynga, Pandora, LinkedIn and Groupon. (Expect Mark Pincus, Tim Westergren, Reid Hoffman and Andrew Mason—their respective CEOs—to make a showing.)

No question deals will drip out from the week. Content-streaming site Hulu is in the early stages of a sale, possibly involving Microsoft , Google , Yahoo and other private equity firms. Martha Stewart Living has tapped Blackstone to evaluate partnerships for the brand. Music publishing house EMI is on the block, a few short months after mogul Len Blavatnik snagged competitor Warner Music Group. That's to name a few.

Though Sun Valley has been the breeding ground for deals like Google's purchase of YouTube and Comcast's buying a majority stake in NBCUniversal, it's likely this year's deals will involve posturing along the changing media landscape rather than mega-mergers. According to Dow Jones VentureSource, the number of IPOs has been in double-digit territory for three consecutive quarters—the first time that's happened since 2007. As the public market heats up, the survey found, traditional M&A has waned as would-be corporate acquirers find reason to wait.

Also don’t rule out philanthropy—the fertile crescent of Sun Valley has been a political hotbed as well. Last year, the conference played host to negotiations between Mark Zuckerberg and Newark Mayor Cory Booker over a $100 million gift on behalf of Facebook. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are also expected in attendance. (Arnold Schwarzenegger reportedly has a house in Sun Valley, but our guess is he won’t attend.)

We’ll also want some explanations. What exactly do John Malone and Charlie Ergen have in mind for their untimely (or perhaps timely) buys of Barnes & Nobleand Blockbuster? What can Specific Media do with a distressed MySpace that News Corp couldn’t? Why did Yahoo! stiff-arm the idea of a take-private? And how does Cisco expect a restructuring to boost a stock price that’s been anemic for over a decade?

Perhaps the cruelest irony of the media conference is how frowned-upon the media actually are—sequestered to one corner of the miles-wide resort, and at times forced to report from behind giant hedges. But for many media organizations, the reporters and content-creators are the human capital driving the deals. Wouldn’t that make us their kin?

Alas, in the meantime, we’re revisiting some media ourselves:

listening to “Hollywood” by Michael Buble, and perusing Jonathan Knee’s “Curse of the Mogul" to get the juices flowing. Perhaps the eeriest part of prep work has been re-reading “The New New Thing” by Michael Lewis, which a decade ago picked off anecdotes from the dotcom boom.

Lewis writes: “The Internet was a Trojan horse in which technogeeks entered all sorts of markets previously inhospitable to technogeeks… It made 1980s Wall Street seem like the low-stakes poker table.”

That would make this week in Sun Valley the triple crown.


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