July 15, 2024

DealBook: Deal Makers Soak Up Sun Valley

From right, Robert Wiesenthal of Sony, Leslie Moonves of CBS, Robert Kotick of Activision Blizzard and an unidentified man on opening day of the conference.Matt Staver/Bloomberg NewsFrom right, Robert Wiesenthal of Sony, Leslie Moonves of CBS, Robert Kotick of Activision Blizzard and an unidentified man on opening day of the conference.

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — “I heard you bought Disney!” bellowed James Wiatt, the former chief of the William Morris Agency, as he stood in the lobby of the Sun Valley Lodge, bearing down on Robert Kotick, the chief executive of Activision Blizzard.

Grinning, Mr. Kotick told his friend he was mistaken. He had merely visited Disney.

Such was the congenial mood on Tuesday night, as moguls converged at the lodge’s bar, Duchin, to toast the 29th annual Allen Company conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.

The boutique investment bank’s retreat, which has sparked its share of multi-billion dollar transactions like Comcast’s recent purchase of a majority stake in NBC Universal, is attracting a bevy of deal makers. Hulu, said to be in talks with several possible acquirers, should be well represented by its media owners, led by the News Corporation and Disney. Executives at potential bidders like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo were also expected.

While deal chatter will likely dominate many private conversations, especially those beyond the gaze of the press corps, serious merger talk was largely shelved on Tuesday night.

After a hayride and barbecue, hosted by Allen Company, the moguls trickled into Duchin, donning the white name badges required for entry. Some billionaires were notably absent, including Warren E. Buffett, Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch, all of whom were expected to attend. But there was plenty of wattage in the room.

As DealBook arrived — or rather walked up to the entrance of the bar, since journalists are barred from entering Duchin at night — Selma Hayek left, wearing a bold-printed dress and thick head of curls.

Just outside, in the hotel lobby, Ben Horowitz, one half of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, relaxed with his wife and Gina Bianchini, the former chief executive of Ning. A few minutes later, Mark Pincus, the founder of Zynga, passed by, accompanied by his wife, Ali Pincus, the founder of the home flash sales site One King’s Lane.

A handful of gaming and entertainment executives joined the mix, including Sony’s Robert Wiesenthal, former Viacom chief Tom Freston, Mr. Kotick and a Zynga board member, Bing Gordon, who later retired to the back of the room with friends. As the evening dragged on, Mr. Gordon, who is known in Silicon Valley for his affinity for poetry, freestyled a few verses.

While few executives talked deals, many were eager to discuss the upcoming schedule. The crowd favorites on the agenda: Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg’s chat, scheduled for Saturday; a session with New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, set for Friday; Charlie Rose’s interview with Oprah Winfrey on Thursday; and a panel on doing business in China, which was to include the designer Diane von Furstenberg.

As midnight neared, more guests flowed out of the bar, including Martin Sorrell, chief of the WPP Group; Andrew Mason and Eric Lefkofsky, co-founders of Groupon; and Jeff Weiner, the chief executive of LinkedIn, fresh off his company’s splashy May debut. Though many were excited to catch up with friends, the next day’s schedule loomed large.

“We’ve got to be at breakfast at like 6:30 a.m.” lamented one attendee.

As Duchin’s crowd dwindled to roughly a dozen, one notable figure remained. Dressed in a blue cable sweater and oxford shirt, Ms. Winfrey held court at her table in the middle of the bar as guests came and went.

But soon she too had to retire. When asked by reporters to stay for a brief interview, Ms. Winfrey graciously declined before setting off to her room.

“I’m going to be here through Friday, for sure.”

Follow @EvelynRusli on Twitter for more updates from Sun Valley, Idaho.

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