Idaho: Amidst plenty of golf and other play, media moguls have converged on this high-altitude mountain resort for a conference cum retreat which has the air of a college extension course for CEOs, complete with homework.
The agenda is national security, technology and digital distribution of media and the event is sponsored by Allen & Co. investment bank. Delegates were seen carrying stacks of books, including “The Edge of Disaster,” by Stephen Flynn, a noted security expert.
Other books being carried out by senior members of the media establishment included “At the Center of the Storm,” by former CIA chief George Tenet and “The New American Story,” by former Senator and Allen & Co. executive Bill Bradley.
Many executives declined to be quoted by name, since the proceedings are officially closed to reporters, but the panels were widely described as lively, engaging, and a good place for media executives to come to grips with the big questions facing their industries, namely, how to continue to make money when many people are spurning TV, radio, newspapers and other media outlets for the Internet.
Howard Stringer, the first foreign-born chief executive of Japanese electronics and entertainment company Sony Corp., told reporters on his way to lunch that the Allen conference, which used to be heavily weighted toward large media and entertainment conglomerates, was increasingly being populated by smaller technology companies.
Old media vs new media
Top executives from Facebook Inc., a hot new social networking site; Joost, a new online video distribution outlet, and Sling Media, which allows users to watch their home TV signal over the Internet, were all on hand at this year’s weeklong event.
“Allen’s conference has caught the wave like everybody else,” Stringer told a group of reporters. “Those of us in Old Media are less significant than we used to be.”
For their part, several executives from cutting-edge tech companies which are still viewed with some suspicion in media circles went out of their way to present themselves as potential partners rather than rivals.
“I think the media world is much more comfortable with digital distribution than they ever have been in the past,” Mike Volpi, CEO of Joost, told reporters. Several media companies including MTV owner Viacom Inc. have made partnerships with Joost to distribute video online, but its founders have struck terror into the music industry before with one of their previous inventions, the song-swapping service Kazaa.
High speed Internet set to change media equations
The conference was seen as a time for intense learning and education especially on trends like getting people to view their home cable boxes from remote locations over high-speed Internet connections.
Interestingly, YouTube, which was the hottest topic at last year’s conference, was nowhere to be seen this year. The hugely popular video-sharing site is currently being sued by Viacom Inc., which is claiming massive copyright infringement.
There were high-level discussions about the intersection of technology and media, including several executives with feet in both worlds like Diller; Jeff Bezos, the CEO online retailer Amazon.com Inc.; Stringer of Sony and Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Internet search leader Google Inc.
Big names that were missing
Despite the collection of media firepower at the conference including News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, Time Warner Inc. CEO Dick Parsons and Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, notably absent was Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook Inc., current darling of the Internet world whose social-networking site saw an 89% increase in unique visitors in May, according to comScore. Facebook’s COO Owen Van Natta did attend.
The gathering, which brings together top brass from media as well as technology gurus including Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and Dell Inc. CEO Michael Dell, was expected to also hear a presentation from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 14 July.