Wednesday, July 19, 2006

They came, they conquered, they left

Deals reported from Allen & Co. conference

Express Staff Writer

Private jets clog the parking area at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey last week, during the height of the annual Allen & Co. conference. Photo by Galen and Judy Hanselman.

Allen & Co.'s annual summer conference at Sun Valley wrapped up on Saturday. The security guards and photographers are gone, the ducks have regained prominence in their pond and the struggle between the Old Media and the New has moved to more urban battlefields.

But the national business press reports that several important deals were discussed during the hobnobbing among entertainment- and technology-company executives.

The New York Times reports that the talk of the event was the negotiation of a joint venture between Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of the Weinstein Co. and former head of Miramax, and Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, to form an urban entertainment company. Johnson runs a private equity firm called the RLJ Companies after having sold Black Entertainment Television, founded on an investment of $15,000, to Viacom for $3 billion.

Surely the most talked-about person of the event was Chad Hurley, CEO of YouTube Inc., which operates a Web site on which amateur video makers can post their creations. The company claims that visitors to its site scan 100 million videos daily.

"During the past two days, Hurley has emerged among the main attraction at an elite media summit in Idaho," The Associated Press reported on Friday, July 12, "where the 29-year-old entrepreneur is seizing upon the attention to further his quest to establish his San Mateo-based startup as an entertainment and advertising hub."

Strolling along the walk in front of the Sun Valley Inn last week with the tails of his light blue dress shirt hanging out over his blue jeans, the long-haired Hurley was clearly part of the New Media's invasion onto the turf traditionally held by print media, television and movies.

"There is a big wave of video coming online and these guys want to work with us to stay relevant in this changing marketplace," Hurley told The Associated Press.

The AP reported that Hurley sat down with CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves in the Sun Valley Inn lounge to discuss how YouTube might be able to direct more traffic to Web sites owned by CBS. The meeting ended with Moonves' concluding that CBS should start posting daily snippets of its programming on YouTube.

In his "DealBook" column, New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin reported that it was investors, rather than media-company executives, that dominated last week's dealings.

"Flush with billions in cash and the ability to borrow heavily on top of that, the private equity bigwigs and hedge fund managers have become the stars," Sorkin reported.

Responding to the question of what are those investors looking for, one hedge fund manager told Sorkin, "Any opportunity to put our money to work—financing movies, new technologies, special projects and buyouts."

Sorkin reported that informal discussions during the conference sparked rumors of CBS's interest in selling its Simon & Schuster book division and of Time Warner's looking to do something with its AOL unit.

In her "Deadline Hollywood" column, published in LA Weekly just before this year's conference, Nikki Finke lamented that the event's focus had changed from movie making to finance and technology.

"Ever since, Camp Allen has been far less interesting," Finke wrote. "Sure, the dozens of corporate jets still line the tarmac at nearby Friedman Memorial Airport. But, to be honest, nobody talks about it anymore, nobody cares about it anymore and nobody wants it anymore. Attending it now is a chore."

At least, that's one view from Hollywood. But all the chatter in the business press last week indicates that Wall Street will probably focus its attention on Sun Valley, if only for a few days, once again next July.

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