Media Moguls Flock to Sun Valley for Allen & Co. Conference

by Brian Smith, courtesy

SUN VALLEY, Idaho • As media and industry moguls flock to the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, journalists and other onlookers sharpen their focus, eager to see famous faces and learn about blockbuster deals.

Sun Valley and Ketchum residents simply go about their lives, though, paying little attention to the industry titans and horde of media members they attract.

“When you see the jets come in, you know it’s that time of year,” said Annette Taylor, barista at the Iconoclast Bookstore and Cafe.

This year’s conference started late Tuesday, with a guest list of more than 100 government officials, investors, media heads, famous journalists, technology gurus and those who need no introduction — Zuckerberg, Buffett, Cook, Gates, Murdoch and Weinstein.

Allen & Company, a private investment firm, has sponsored the gathering in Sun Valley since 1983. The event features presentations and discussions while allowing industry executives to mingle in a relaxed setting. The conference has been known to foster major acquisitions or company mergers.

Maker Studios CEO Ynon Kreiz was one of the few executives to stop and talk with journalists, who were corralled in a small, fenced area. (If journalists pursued those who did not want to chat, they would be kicked out of the resort.)

Kreiz, whose company specializes in video content for YouTube, said it’s no secret the world is consuming more and more online video.

Many of the media companies at the conference are looking to move more content to the digital space, he said.

Kreiz said he hears about investments “day in and day out” at the conference. But the deals and company mergers for which the Allen & Company conference is famous “remain to be seen,” he said.

“It’s all about meeting new people, hearing what’s new, what’s changing and, as a whole, it’s just a great conference.”

Reporters and photojournalists from the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg, New York Post and Fox News Business, among others, paced back and forth, paying attention only when the clatter of cameras fired.

“Who is that?” they asked each other.

The highlight of the afternoon was a 30-second glimpse of Apple CEO Tim Cook, who bought a drink from a vending machine as photographers yelled to see if he’d turn to face them.

“That’s the one we needed, boys,” a proud shooter said as he and another cameraman headed for the exit.

By lunchtime, most journalists had left to file their images and stories.

Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp, surprised several journalists when he walked through the fenced area, snapping a quick “sorry” when asked for an interview. Several dejected reporters paused to watch him walk away.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt walked by and promised an interview later. Film studio executive Harvey Weinstein did the same, adding, “You know the embargo here.“

Workers dressed in formal wear ushered trays of giant chocolate chip cookies, untouched pineapples and uneaten sandwiches from the tented area to a nearby building. Carts were filled with ice, sodas, juices and other drinks.

Security guards stopped confused shoppers who wandered beyond the fencing. Gardeners quietly watered the sea of pink and purple flowers.

The event also attracted various other onlookers, including Carter Scott, a skinny boy in orange shoes who was hoping to spot Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Scott held his camera phone close for several hours.

“There’s not a lot of celebrities there,” Scott said of his hometown Bismark, N.D.

Away from the fencing, however, the attitude was much different. Meg Mazzocchi, a Ketchum resident working at The Toy Store, shrugged off the event.

Mazzocchi said she saw Oprah at the gym last year, and some celebrities have come into the store this year. Otherwise, she doesn’t pay them much attention.

“I’m so not interested from having lived up here for 30 years,” she said.

Celebrities frequent the town in flannel and beards looking to escape, she said. For the most part, Ketchum’s locals oblige — they act as if they are “bad dogs,” she said, diverting her eyes and turning to the side in demonstration.

“You don’t ogle and you don’t intrude and you don’t ask for autographs,” she said. “Just let them enjoy their vacation. I think that’s why Sun Valley is popular.“

The conference is a mixed blessing to the town — moguls and hangers-on will book restaurants, keeping locals from their favorite diners but giving big business to the establishment and wait staff, she said.

“You do have to adjust. You may be going (out to eat), but it’s Allen & Company, and you’re not going after all.“

Those attending the conference bring a lot of business to Sun Valley, said Taylor, a life-long area resident. She said one person, whom she didn’t recognize, paid for coffee with an unusually heavy, metal credit card.

“It is a good thing, but it is a frustrating thing because you have to be on your toes this week,” she said. “It’s just intimidating. There are very powerful people here.“

Rogers Thomas and Don Bruemmer were standing near the press area in their cycling outfits, fresh off a morning ride. They were comparing the best places in town to “get a grinder” for lunch.

Bruemmer and Thomas agreed Ketchum is used to the brief summer flock of moguls.

Thomas said he met Warren Buffett at an Allen & Company conference two or three years ago, and they shook hands after Thomas told him he was a big fan – and before the media whisked the billionaire away.

“What really struck me was that he wasn’t put off by it at all,” he said. “I thought he’d have, like, security guys around him.“

Michael Murphy, manager of Silver Creek Outfitters next to the press area, said he isn’t fazed by the event either. While journalists scrambled to talk to Murdoch, Murphy simply watched.

“That’s not the first time I’ve seen Rupert Murdoch,” he said.

Murphy said the only thing he doesn’t like about the conference is the gaggle of reporters who block his door and charge their phones and laptops on the external power outlet.

“But they’ll be gone in couple of days,” he said, looking out the window.

Thank you, TiA


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