UPDATED, Monday, 4:56 PM: Saturday’s panel with Secretary of State John Kerry and interviewer Charlie Rose went off without a hitch after some technical problems the previous day, but listening about the conflicts in the Middle East was not as interesting to moguls (‘what else is new, it’s a mess over there’) as the panel that featured billionaire investor Warren Buffet and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, according to some in attendance. Bezos, whose company Amazon has become a powerhouse in publishing and is creating its own content now, told the group gathered that the Amazon business model in publishing and creating content is here to stay. While the panels are always greatly attended, some of those who sat through the first few said they were a bit dry and boring, but “Buffet is always interesting to listen to,” said one attendee. Said another, “All the networking is really done in the first day … unless you’re Jeffrey Katzenberg lining up meetings every hour.” Added another, “He sits there and does one meeting after another … he must have had like 20 meetings.” Yes, DreamWorks Animation’s Katzenberg was doing his ‘speed-dating’ meetings near the duck pond as usual which had some entertainment moguls laughing and others rolling their eyes (‘He has like what? One movie in the marketplace?’ Does he know how silly it looks?).
On Saturday, too, were presentations from the younger entreprenuers of Lookout, Xapo and Lending Club, which another attendee said he thought was fantastic (‘The guy from Lookout looked like he was 16 years old’). Also interesting to one attendee was the education panel with Eva Sarah Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools and Kaya Henderson who is the D.C. school superintendent. “They were really good together and kept everyone’s interest.” That panel took place last Thursday.
The five-day Sun Valley retreat wrapped up last night with the annual dinner hosted by Herb Allen, whose aserbic wit and self-deprecating humor was enjoy by all. In reference to the panel earlier in the week that featured producer Brian Grazer and TWC’s Harvey Weinstein talking about the creative process, one attendee noted that “Brian really hit the mark on it. He was pitch perfect. If he did that same speech in showbiz circles it might not resonate but it did with most of people who were not in the business.’” One of the things that they both suggested was to listen to the voices in your head and get in touch with your instinct, which Allen use as a set up for a joke at the Sunday night dinner: “I have the voices in my head. I just don’t know what to do with them yet.” Until next year …
3RD UPDATE, FRIDAY, 2:50 PM: People actually enjoyed the Michael Bloomberg panel today at the Herb Allen Sun Valley conference as the 72-year-old answered questions from journalist Willow Bay, wife of Disney’s Robert Iger. The former mayor of New York whose fight for reasonable gun laws is well-documented, spoke about his philanthropy efforts and giving back to society. Through Bloomberg Philanthropies, the billionaire does just that in the areas of education, the arts, gun issues, governance and public health. He spoke about how dysfunctional the current U.S. system is politically and otherwise to get things done — no doubt as he personally saw what happened behind the scenes in Washington D.C. as politicians in the pocket of the NRA stymied efforts to get background checks on gun sales passed. Leave it to a politician — an orator and a former Eagle scout (hey, it’s no small task) — to wake up the moguls.
The second panel, which was supposed to feature Charlie Rose interviewing Secretary of State John Kerry piped in live from Afghanistan, went awry as the video feed didn’t work (they tried for about 15 minutes to get it up and running to no avail). That conversation, which was expected to be about how heavily the U.S. should be involved in the current explosive situation in the Middle East, will now take place tomorrow after journalist Becky Quick interviews Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos.
So they are attempting to fix the video feed for tomorrow, but let’s face it, if it doesn’t work, we doubt anyone will be upset as Kerry drones … on and on. Speaking of drones, there has been some attempt to make sure that drones don’t fly over the conference taking pictures, according to Bloomberg News. Ahhh, technology … the age of the paparazzi drone? If people are still awake after Kerry and Rose, a number of younger entrepreneurs will have their turn at bat.
Most all we spoke with don’t expect any major deals to go down at this conference. That doesn’t keep attendees from talking about them – especially involving content producers – following Comcast’s agreement to buy Time Warner Cable, and AT&T’s with DirecTV. Speculation focused on the usual suspects: Disney, Fox, CBS, and Discovery. Media chiefs who’ve seen their cache fade over the last few years appreciated the recognition that traditional entertainment assets will be central to whatever happens next in technology, including online video. “The core entertainment [companies] are still at the core” – although Netflix, Google, and Amazon are “at table too” — says one. But most of the deal ideas “were dismissed as ‘not gonna happen’ by players involved,” we’re told by a familiar face at the proceedings.
Venture capitalists in Sun Valley paid most attention to tech chiefs including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, AOL’s Tim Armstrong, Google’s Larry Page, Pinterest’s Ben Silbermann, GoPro’s Nick Woodman, and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman. They’re also stars for many in the pen where Allen & Co isolates journalists trying to cover the proceedings. There were more reporters than in the past from Silicon Valley, often replacing those on the media beat.
2nd UPDATE, THURSDAY, 6 PM: About 80% tech-heavy now. That’s the word coming from Sun Valley where the conference is underway. Interesting to hear people talking about the panels, including the one with Imagine’s Brian Grazer and TWC’s Harvey Weinstein as there seems to be a growing chasm between the young entrepreneurs from silicon valley who are still inventing, cyber-security companies, app guys, and the old media guard. “It’s kinda funny that you have these guys who have come up in a different era talking about things that seem so old,” said one attendee who attended the communications and creativity panels.
“Harvey Weinstein was talking about Marco Polo (the TWC’s television series) and the changing landscape of distribution in television like a 10-part-mini-series is something new. It’s people getting together and talking from different era. It’s all Internet and tech now and the media guys talking about this kinda seemed arrogant. You have the younger generation, the more cutting edge people more interested in the one-on-one conversations” instead of the panel discussions.
Interesting that I’ve heard that from both the young and the older attendees. All anyone is saying is that it’s good for networking but don’t expect any major deals coming from it and the panels are just so-so. Sounds like the Sun Valley format is getting stale.
UPDATE, THURSDAY 2:58 PM: Hearing that it’s a bit ho-hum this year as far as the panels go, nothing really earthshaking: Google’s Larry Page talking about robotic cars; Barry Diller, Brian Roberts and James Murdoch yakking on about distributing content via wireless vs. non-wireless. Sounds pretty boilerplate. As one attendee said, “You know, nothing — no big deals — really actually happen here. People have said the ABC/Cap Cities deal happened here, but it really didn’t.”
So who’s there from Hollywood? Those mentioned (and pictured) below as well as usual suspects: Viacom’s Philippe Dauman, Les Moonves, News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch with sons James and Lachlan, Barry Diller, Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes, Comcast’s Stephen Burke, Disney’s Robert Iger, Universal’s Ron Meyer, DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, Paramount chief Brad Grey, ABC News President Ben Sherwood and agents Bryan Lourd (CAA), Jim Berkus (UTA) and Chris Silbermann (ICM Partners), Jeff Berg (Resolution) and ex-WME exec Jim Wiatt — but no Ari Emmanuel (again).
PREVIOUS, TUESDAY, 4:35 PM: Business leaders, politicians and media moguls are arriving today in Sun Valley, Idaho, for Herb Allen’s 30th annual Allen & Co conference, where bigwigs gather for panels and chit-chat about current business trends behind mostly closed doors. Details always are scarce about the goings-on at the retreat, with press these days mostly relegated to corralled areas where execs might pass by in cowboy boots and jeans for a word or two but rarely say anything of substance. We did get our hands on this week’s panel schedule, which confirms some of the attendees at the confab that began in 1984.
Among the Hollywood names confirmed this year for the five-day retreat are Barry Diller, James Murdoch and Comcast’s Brian Roberts, all on a Thursday panel on the topic of communications. The same day, Harvey Weinstein and Brian Grazer will be interviewed by Charlie Rose during a panel on creativity, and Tom Brokaw will sit down with Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Other names on the list include Michael Bloomberg (whose philanthropic work on the issue of gun control is well known), Google’s Larry Page, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos. They join the usual mix of attendees, the increasingly large numbers of tech moguls like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and telco bosses like AT&T’s Randall Stephenson.
Here are highlights of the panel schedule through Sunday:
Leadership panel — Phil Jackson interviewed by Bill Bradley
Google’s Larry Page interviewed by Ben Horowitz
Communications panel — Barry Diller, James Murdoch and Brian Roberts
Tom Brokaw interviewing Gen. Stanley McChrystal
Creativity panel — Harvey Weinstein and Brian Grazer interviewed by Charlie Rose
Education Forum with Eva Moskowitz (CEO Success Charter Schools in New York) and Kaya Henderson (D.C. Superintendent of schools)
Philanthropy panel — Michael Bloomberg interviewed by Willow Bay
U.S. Secretary Of State John Kerry interviewed by Charlie Rose
Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos interviewed by Becky Quick