Fresh off of upending the media landscape with their deal to combine WarnerMedia and Discovery, Discovery chief David Zaslav and AT&T head John Stankey will touch down in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July for Allen & Co.’s annual media conference.
They will be joined at the annual confab of power brokers and media barons by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, fresh off his $8.5 billion deal to purchase Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and will hit the resort at a time when most insiders believe that Hollywood and Silicon Valley are in the midst of an unprecedented period of consolidation.
If more mergers and acquisitions are on the horizon, they may be hatched at Sun Valley, which in the past has been the locus of such mega-pacts as Comcast’s purchase of NBC/Universal, the Washington Post’s sale to Bezos and Disney’s deal for Capital Cities/ABC. Sun Valley also played matchmaker for AOL and Time Warner’s unhappy union, which, until AT&T’s short-lived ownership of WarnerMedia, was far-and-away the worst thing that ever happened to the company that brothers Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack Warner founded in 1923 (it probably still is, but at least it now has a rival in the AT&T merger).
Last year, Allen & Co., the investment bank behind the gathering, put the event on COVID-related hiatus, but it’s back on in 2021 and should occur right after the July 4th holiday.
The guest list for Sun Valley is once again overflowing with the kind of bold faced names with the cash and egos to spur a fresh wave of M&A. There’s Apple’s Tim Cook, Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, Walt Disney CEO Bob Chapek, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos and Reid Hastings, Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida, and Comcast’s Brian Roberts. They’re joined in the dealmakers club by Liberty Global Chairman John Malone and top lieutenants Mike Fries and Greg Maffei, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, CAA’s Bryan Lourd, ICM’s Chris Silbermann, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, ViacomCBS’s Shari Redstone, and Viking Global Investors’ Andreas Halvorsen. Also making the cut is Jason Kilar, the WarnerMedia CEO who is widely expected to be odd man out and lose his job when the company’s spinoff with Discovery is finalized.
Sun Valley has often played host to presidential aspirants such as Chris Christie and Cory Booker, neither of whom are on this year’s guest list. This edition will see Nikki Haley, former US Ambassador to the UN and a potential 2024 candidate, hit Idaho in the hopes of cultivating some donors. She has said she won’t run if Donald Trump makes another bid. Other pols and Beltway insiders include Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, and William McRaven, the former Commander of the United States Special Forces.
From the world of sports there’s Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, Buffalo Bills and Sabres owner Terry Pegula, New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver, and National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell.
Academia may not boast the kind of salaries that are usually a requirement for entry at Sun Valley, but the professors and school presidents are useful for the panel discussions that form much of the week’s activities. Behind closed doors, guests are treated to talks on everything from global terrorism to public education to global warming. Afternoons are spent biking, whitewater rafting and barbecuing. This year’s group of Ivory Tower denizens includes The University of Chicago President Bob Zimmer, Georgetown University President Jack DeGioia, and Nicholas Christakis, Yale University’s Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science.
Others getting the golden ticket and chance to trade their power suits for windbreakers and sensible chinos include Shake Shack creator Danny Meyer, Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell, Palantir CEO Alex Karp, “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” creator Vince Gilligan, “Murphy Brown” star Candice Bergen, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, producer Brian Grazer, Casey Wasserman, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee president and head of marketing and management company Wasserman, and Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug control policy advisor who founded Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a political organization opposed to marijuana legalization and commercialization.
The event is off-the-record, but some journalists are allowed behind the velvet rope, either to serve as moderators for talks or to source build. This year’s contingent from the Fourth Estate includes Diane Sawyer, Anderson Cooper, Tom Brokaw, Gayle King, New Yorker reporter Evan Osnos, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “Squawk Box” co-hosts Becky Quick and Andrew Ross Sorkin, and Lionel Barber, the former editor of the Financial Times.
Being on the guest list doesn’t mean that a person will actually appear at the Alpine Idyll — Jerry Seinfeld was invited one year, but didn’t show. The one-percent of the one-percenters lead busy lives, after all. It’s possible, for instance, that Bezos’ planned trip to space on July 20, could alter those plans. If he doesn’t attend, he’ll have company. A few regulars aren’t on the list this time. These include Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan (though ex-wife Wendi Murdoch is named), as well as billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.