Moguls Arrive in Sun Valley With Politics Overshadowing Bargains

The titans of media and technology are back in Sun Valley, Idaho, for their annual summit to plot the future of their industries, but it seems like world politics and the economy are what everyone truly wants to talk about.

Take David Zaslav, whose Discovery Communications Inc. has stimulated big bets on Tv rights for European athletics. Holding court with reporters Tuesday, he focused as much on the continents poor-performing economy as he did the changing media landscape. Western european countries, excluding the U.K ., has been in a recession for the past 10 years, said Zaslav, 56, citing the absence of wage growth and high unemployment. The situation in Europe right now is a recipe for some real challenges.

It doesnt look right now like its going to get a lot better, he said after arriving in Sun Valley, where the conference is hosted each year by Allen& Co.

David Zaslav .
Photographer: David Paul Morris/ Bloomberg

While the conference typically focuses on technology, telecom and media, and has spawned more than a few big mergers, this years lineup features more government and foreign delegations. Participants include Stanley McChrystal, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism for the New York Police Department. Panels start Wednesday morning.

Others arriving Tuesday included Michael Eisner, former chief executive officer of Walt Disney Co ., Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts, and Hollywood superagents Michael Ovitz and Jeff Berg, a board member at Oracle Corp. Ovitz, co-founder of Creative Artists Associate, said Britains withdrawal from the European Union will be a key topic during the five-day seminar, along with the economic fallout and the U.S. presidential race.

Eisner chatted briefly with CBS Corp. Chairman and CEO Les Moonves and CBS Vice Chairman Shari Redstone, whos been embroiled in international disputes over control of her parents other company, Viacom Inc. Shari Redstone backed Moonvess promotion to chairman this year, and he awaited about half an hour outside the lodge for her to appear Tuesday evening. Meantime, he spoke with his rivals at Walt Disney Co ., CEO Bob Iger and Disney-ABC Television Group President Ben Sherwood.

Sherwood had arrived in a auto with his co-worker, ESPN President John Skipper, and with Tom Staggs, the former Disney chief operating officer who stepped down earlier this year after losing his status as the frontrunner to replace Iger when his contract expires in 2018. Iger followed later in a separate vehicle.

Broadcast Rights

Zaslav, CEO of Silver Spring, Maryland-based Discovery, said obtaining exclusive programming for spectators has become more crucial for entertainment companies, even in Europes slow economy. Technology and telecommunications companies have built up capabilities to deliver a so-called quadruple play — offering telephone, Tv, Internet and mobile services — only to find there is a requirement to shows, games and videos to deliver over those networks.

Discovery generated about half of its $6.39 billion in 2015 revenue outside the U.S.

The marketplace for content is grow, Zaslav said. If you own really good quality content, theres going to be a lot more opportunity to grow your market share.

75 Deals

Discovery has done about 75 sports rights bargains in the past 18 months, Zaslav said. While costs for the most popular sports have soared, with soccer up 90 percentage, Discovery has focused on less-expensive cycling and tennis in Europe, he said.

The costs for those, as well as the Olympics, are much more manageable, Zaslav said.

Europe and Latin America represent the most attractive opportunities, he said. Conventional TV viewing in Eastern Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia is still growing, he said.

Many companies have spent a ton of capital building up quadruple play offerings to homes, only to realize that they need unique programming to distinguish themselves.

People are eating more content now in a meaningful style than they ever have, he said. They just ingest it on more platforms. Its a question of constructing sure your content is on all those platforms.

To prepare for meeting attendees and their families, the Sun Valley resort set up a number of entertainment areas for children and teens, including ping pong tables, lawn games and Coca-Cola-branded refrigerators. Large white tents will serve as shaded lounge regions, with sofas and magazines.

Conference attendees will also get a chance to watch an ice skating reveal at the rink in the resort, even with temperatures forecast to reach the high 70 s.

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