Media, Tech Titans Head to Sun Valley With Biden Future in Doubt

(Bloomberg) -- Global politics and the future of US President Joe Biden will be top of mind when business leaders gather at the Sun Valley Conference this week.

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The annual event, hosted by boutique investment bank Allen & Co. at the Sun Valley resort in Idaho, has been a historic breeding ground for media deals and is usually a forum for tech and media elites to discuss the future of their industry.

This year’s so-called summer camp for billionaires, though, follows transformational elections in the UK and France. It also comes on the heels of Biden’s disastrous June 27 debate against Donald Trump that has triggered calls from some Democratic lawmakers and donors for him to step aside.

That’s put the US election and the ramifications for business at the top of the agenda at Sun Valley. Adding to that conversation, three governors being floated as potential replacements for Biden — Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro and Maryland’s Wes Moore — are slated to attend the event.

The political intrigue comes on top of the continuing upheaval in the media industry. Legacy companies — once the masters of the entertainment universe — are seeing their business models unravel, thanks to the collapse of cable TV, declining advertising revenue and the rise of streaming. Tech giants are increasingly taking market share, aided by their seemingly limitless budgets.

Executives from both camps will be in attendance at Sun Valley and will likely swap notes about those trends as well. Meta Platforms Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, Inc. founder Jeff Bezos and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman plan to attend, according to a roster of attendees reviewed by Bloomberg News, as do media and entertainment A-listers such as Walt Disney Co.’s Bob Iger, Comcast Corp.’s Brian Roberts, Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.’s David Zaslav and Kenichiro Yoshida of Sony Group Corp.

“The old school media power players are not in the power position they used to be in as evidenced by the turmoil, friction and change you’re seeing everywhere,” said Mark Boidman, the head of global media for investment bank Solomon Partners. “They don’t necessarily have the deepest pockets, the best relationships or the best audiences anymore. They need to partner, to get scale and reduce costs from a content perspective.”

The US election’s impact on M&A will also likely be in focus, regardless of whether Biden or someone else is on the Democratic ticket. While the closely guarded media summit has been known to spark M&A discussions among its guests — Comcast’s deal for NBCUniversal and Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post were said to have originated there — a tougher antitrust climate under Biden has chilled activity across sectors. Optimism is high that dealmaking will get easier if Trump returns to the White House.

Here are some of the other hot topics to look for:

  • Paramount Global’s merger with Skydance Media, announced late Sunday, removes one of the potential dance partners for legacy companies looking to solve their problems through M&A. Warner Bros. and Comcast are bound to command attention as questions linger over what their role will be in the industry’s consolidation.

  • Disney and Comcast are still negotiating over what value to put on Hulu, which they co-own. Disney is planning to buy Comcast’s one-third stake in the streaming service.

  • Media companies are partnering up their streaming operations with those of competitors to lower costs and improve profitability, in effect trying to re-create the cable bundle. Disney and Warner Bros., for example, are bundling Disney+, Hulu and Max. Comcast has a bundle with Netflix, Apple TV+ and its own Peacock service.

  • Broadcast rights are competitive as well as pricey. The National Basketball Association is close to announcing an 11-year, $76 billion deal with Disney, Comcast and Amazon.

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