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Allen & Co.’s “summer camp for billionaires” returns to Sun Valley this week after taking a COVID-induced hiatus — and a lot has changed since the power powwow was last held in 2019.
As usual, media moguls like Michael Eisner, Barry Diller and Reed Hastings will begin flying in Monday to the posh Idaho mountain resort to mingle with tech tycoons including Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and Airbnb’s 39-year-old chief executive, Brian Chesky.
But this year they will share the limelight with titans of industries that got an outsize boost after the world shut down last year to stave off the deadly coronavirus. Global video game revenue, for example, skyrocketed during the pandemic to almost $180 billion — making it larger than the $100 billion global film industry.
That means Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick could find more would-be partners nipping at his heels as he wanders the mountainous resort grounds. Watchers say they expect video game heads from Activision, Epic Games or Roblox to be pitched on partnering with other media businesses, say, for movie or TV deals.
“The topic everyone should be talking about, the most transformative thing — is the explosion of gaming,” Rich Greenfield, a partner at LightShed tells The Post. “It’s stunning what has happened in gaming and it’s stunning how many tech and media companies aren’t getting involved.” But a question looming large is whether the growth in gaming continues post-pandemic as people re-emerge from their homes.
Cryptocurrencies are also expected to take a more prominent seat at the table this year, with Coinbase — which is setting up its first NYC-based office — recently chief executive Brian Armstrong making his inaugural appearance. Armstrong can expect to be hounded by financiers with bright ideas to help Coinbase become more stable and less tied to the volatility of Bitcoin prices. Since its April stock debut, Coinbase shares have dropped from $342 to $240 a share as bitcoin loses some of its pandemic luster.
In addition to who’s in, the secretive but closely watched conference also stands to highlight who’s out.
“Telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon used to be big players,” one insider noted. “This year they won’t have media assets and that will be a big hit to their ego.”
It’s now clear that great content companies can stand on their own and may even be hampered by ownership of telecom and cable companies. In 2019, AT&T was celebrating its plans to close on a mega-billion a deal to buy Time Warner. This year, the conversation will be about AT&T’s deal to sell its WarnerMedia entertainment assets to Discovery.
That is sure to make Discovery chief David Zaslav, who will head the combined entity, a popular figure at Sun Valley this year as industry players seek to plant the seeds of acquisitions with smaller media players, like Roku or AMC Networks.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts also will be a focus as the the head of a large cable TV and media conglomerate. The conference comes weeks after a recent Wall Street Journal report suggesting the owner of NBCUniversal is weighing beefing up its streaming business through acquisitions, including ViacomCBS and Roku.
But Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson LLC thinks Sun Valley attendees looking for Comcast to save their struggling media assets may be wasting their time.
“Brian Roberts will inevitably be at the center of those discussions but he is in wait-and-see mode,” Moffett said. “As much as people would love to attach his name to every conceivable transaction, I don’t think he’ll be looking to make acquisitions.”
Eyes will also be on Amazon for its $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM, including concerns that the deal could be squashed by President Biden’s Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, who has alleged it raises antitrust concerns
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has RSVP’d “yes” to the confab and is expected to bring newly minted Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, who officially takes the helm of the company this week. An even bigger question is whether he will bring his new “gal pal” Lauren Sanchez.
But Bezos may have reason to skip the shindig given that the founder of rocket company Blue Origin is slated to blast into space on July 20. As of press time, there was still no word on how Bezos is taking the fact that Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson has moved to beat him in the space race by nine days by boarding his own rocket on July 11.
A still more likely no-show in Sun Valley might be Bill Gates. The legendary Microsoft co-founder has told organizers at investment bank Allen & Co. that he’s attending, but his shocking divorce from wife Melinda continues to grab headlines, with fresh reports continuing to spill out last week of alleged womanizing and misbehavior at Microsoft.
Likewise, Gates’ longtime money manager Michael Larson has been a Sun Valley regular in the past, but he, too, recently got slammed with accusations that he created a hostile work environment at Cascade Investments, subjecting employees to racist and sexually offensive remarks.
Tech watchers, meanwhile, will be looking to see if Zuckerberg of Facebook and Cook of Apple play nice. The two mens’ companies have been publicly sparring over new Apple privacy features that Facebook says will decimate its advertising business.
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