Every year, for a few days after the Fourth of July, some of the world’s biggest media and tech executives descend upon the small resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho, for an annual retreat.
It’s also known as summer camp for billionaires.
The invite-only event, hosted by investment banking firm Allen & Co., has only gotten more excessive. In addition to heads of state, tech CEOs and entrepreneurs have become regulars, including Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, all of whom mingle nightly with media stalwarts like Les Moonves, Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller. (The latter group is far more interesting for quotes, by the way.)
It’s also where big corporate deals are secured. Bezos worked out details of his Washington Post acquisition with then Post chairman Don Graham at the resort. Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal required months of intense negotiations that included key meetings at Sun Valley. Verizon’s purchase of AOL began at a lunch meeting on the grounds.
But despite the high wattage guests, it's not a great place for reporters. News rarely breaks out of Sun Valley itself. All the above deals, for example, didn't surface till months later. Still, it's interesting to see who's talking to whom and trace back how deals may have gotten started.
You can read this for a primer on mogulfest, and, below, are photos of some of this year’s guests:
Cook has become very visible in the last few years, recently raising money for the GOP’s Paul Ryan (despite shunning Donald Trump) and spending a week in India to shore up Apple’s business (so as not to rely too much on China). As you can imagine, he gets a lot of meeting requests.
The guy on the left is Vivi Nevo, one of the most mysterious entrepreneurs around who nonetheless is cozy with all kinds of tech folks, including Twitter/Square’s Jack Dorsey. The guy on the right is Steve Easterbrook, and he runs McDonald’s.
Bob Iger (right) runs Disney, the largest media company in the world, which is also having a bit of a succession issue. Disney just invested about $1 billion in Bam Tech, MLB’s streaming company that runs service for a lot of online video, including HBO. Disney has also invested in Vice. On the left is Ben Sherwood, who is president of Disney/ABC Television Group, which includes ABC, interests in A&E networks and Disney's stake in Hulu. He’s unlikely to succeed Iger, but it’s interesting to see he’s right there next to him at the resort.
This is a fun photo. That's Iger again on the left and Cook in the middle. The other guy is Eddy Cue, who runs Apple's media business. Despite this gathering, there isn't a big chance of Apple launching a TV subscription business anytime soon. If it does happen, securing rights to ESPN, which is controlled by Disney, would be the linchpin to Apple's streaming service.
Kaz Hirai, CEO of Sony, is a Sun Valley regular. Sony’s missed out on a lot of tech developments, but the company is apparently working on a robot that can "form an emotional bond" with people.
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, spoke at our Code Conference last year and has cut deals with Apple and Google to create connected dashboards for some of its cars. Still, she (and every other car executive) is scrambling to deal with the rise of Uber and the onslaught of automated tech.
Nirav Tolia may be CEO of a lesser-known startup, the neighborhood social network Nextdoor, but he’s no Sun Valley newbie. The company says Nextdoor is now in over 100,000 neighborhoods.
Brian Roberts runs Comcast*, which recently made nice with Netflix after years of contentious negotiations over whether the streaming service could live on Comcast’s set-top boxes. Now it can. Still, Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, has to live in a world where fewer people pay for traditional TV and more prefer things like Netflix and Hulu, which are cheaper and easier.
John Skipper runs ESPN, which is controlled by Disney and has lost viewers thanks to cord cutting, or shaving — whatever it is that’s eating into the overall TV business. He also is an unlikely successor to Iger (see above), but ESPN is still one of the most profitable TV networks around and Skipper plans to do all he can to bring people back to the largest sports cable network, as he said at our last Code/Media conference.
The silver-haired bloke thumbing through his iPhone is Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS, considered the best TV programmer alive. Despite the decline of TV in general, CBS has been doing well enough to keep investors invested. CBS also sells a web streaming service, but with a twist: The latest TV series version of the Star Trek franchise will only play on CBS’s streaming service (not even on its broadcast network).
The hipster-haired gent is Lachlan Murdoch, executive co-chairman of Fox; the other one is his brother James, CEO of Fox. Their father is Rupert Murdoch, who disappointingly has been off Twitter for four months. Anyway, the brothers run some of the biggest TV and film content businesses in the world, but like a lot of people at Sun Valley, they’re still sorting out how to deal with the internet. Fox also owns a stake in Hulu.
For media insiders, this is a great photo. That’s Shari Redstone on the left. She is currently embroiled in a train wreck of a family drama that threatens the future of Viacom, the cable company that owns Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV and Paramount Pictures. She’s trying to oust Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman (also a Sun Valley regular), and the smart bet is she wants to install CBS’s Les Moonves as head of both companies — he’s the guy in the middle. The other guy is Mike Eisner, who used to run Disney.
- Comcast’s NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Recode parent Vox Media.
Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly named House Speaker Paul Ryan as Ryan Paul.
ESPN president John Skipper on the network’s future
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.