Murdoch and Zuckerberg to talk deals at Sun Valley conference

Saturday, July 7th 2012. | Internet News

News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergey Brin are expected to be among those talking deals next week when media and technology moguls descend on remote Sun Valley for their annual conference.

The latest moves made by News Corp and Vivendi signal a shifting landscape of opportunities for snatching up assets as media companies navigate new entertainment platforms, a soft economy, turmoil in Europe and the upcoming US presidential election.

The 30-year-old conference, hosted by boutique investment firm Allen & Co, has consistently attracted heavy hitters and spawned blockbuster deals including Disney’s $ 19bn (£12bn) acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC in 1995. However, with the exception of Comcast’s 2009 purchase of NBC Universal, few major tie-ups have come out of Sun Valley in recent years.

That may change at this year’s event, which runs from 10 July to 14 July at the Sun Valley Resort. Developments in the past few weeks have industry commentators predicting media companies will shed more assets while they jockey to grab consumers’ attention.

Most notably, News Corp’s board approved a plan to split the $ 60bn empire into two publicly traded companies, one focusing on entertainment and the other on publishing, with the Murdoch family controlling both. Rupert Murdoch and his children – James, Lachlan and Elisabeth – are expected at Sun Valley amid speculation over their roles in the new companies.

“I think it’ll be more provocative this year. There will be more discussion about whether these bigger conglomerates start breaking up. It’ll be the topic du jour considering what happened with News Corp,” said Todd Davison, Morgan Stanley’s co-head of media investment banking for North America.

Between whitewater rafting and hikes in the mountains, executives attending the so-called “summer camp for moguls” have the chance for high-level talks about possible sales or collaborations.

Close attention will be paid to who lunches together, chats over cocktails, or huddles with the venture capitalists and private equity chiefs expected to attend.

Other media titans whose private jets are expected to clog the small airport’s runway include Disney chief executive Bob Iger, talkshow queen turned network executive Oprah Winfrey and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, according to a list of attendees obtained by Reuters.

On the tech side, guests include Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, Google’s Brin, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, and Netflix chief Reed Hastings.

Facebook, one of the most closely watched and highly anticipated companies to go public, fell flat with its IPO in May after technical glitches on the Nasdaq and questions about its ability to increase advertising revenue. The fallout from the social network’s public debut and how that will affect other tech companies’ plans of going public will certainly be a topic of conversation among the moguls.

So will the fate of Yahoo, an internet icon that is struggling to regain its leadership status after being usurped by Google, Facebook, Apple and others. Yahoo’s interim chief executive Ross Levinsohn is currently on the guest list, but he may not make the event due to the annual meeting of Yahoo shareholders next week while former Yahoo CEOs Jerry Yang and Terry Semel are also expected to attend the conference.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook appears on the guest list, but the iPhone maker has not confirmed whether he will attend. His predecessor, the late Steve Jobs, shunned the event, though his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, is listed among this year’s guests.

Even if Cook does not attend, the next version of Apple TV will be on the minds of media executives.

“I’m sure there will be lots of speculation with the full version of Apple TV. If and when that happens, that will have a major impact on how internet video is consumed in the living room,” said Ken Allen, director in Blackstone’s technology advisory practice.

Vivendi, the French media conglomerate, could be looking to unload some assets now that long-time chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy has stepped down.

One Vivendi asset widely considered to be ripe for disposal is its 60%, or $ 8bn stake, in US video game publisher Activision Blizzard, whose chief executive Bobby Kotick, a Sun Valley conference regular, is registered this year as well.

The company could also spin off Moroccan telecom company Maroc Telecom or mull a Murdoch-style split of its business into a telecom and media arm, analysts and bankers have said.

Lucian Grainge, the head of Universal Music Group, another Vivendi asset, will also be in attendance as his company continues its battle for regulatory approval of EMI Group.

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