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Murdoch to be talk of Sun Valley media festival

Rupert Murdoch, who is pursuing a $5 billion bid for Dow Jones & Co., will be the center of attention when the world’s biggest media chiefs gather this week at the 25th annual Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Rupert Murdoch attended last year's conference. This year he'll be front and center with his bid for Dow Jones.Associated Press
/ Source: Reuters

Rupert Murdoch, who is pursuing a $5 billion bid for Dow Jones & Co., will be the center of attention when the world’s biggest media chiefs gather this week at the 25th annual Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Participants will watch closely for any move by the 76-year-old chief executive of News Corp., including a sudden departure from the event, as a sign of a deal that would give him control of The Wall Street Journal, one of the world’s most influential business media outlets.

News Corp. hired Allen & Co., the media industry’s go-to bankers, to advise on the bid. Perhaps that is one reason why Dow Jones CEO Richard Zannino, a fixture at last year’s Sun Valley but who hired Goldman Sachs, is not on the invitation list this year.

The upper echelons of media, technology and the investment community will also follow the moves of upstart tech and Internet companies. These attendees will mix with entrepreneurs aiming for the next round of financing, buyouts and partnership deals, according to a copy of the guest list seen by Reuters.

Vying for the title of newcomer darling at the event this year is Facebook as speculation grows over whether the online social network will remain private or independent.

Scandinavia-based Web video service Joost may be a close second for attention after rapidly landing distribution deals with the world’s biggest media companies.

Industry executives view Joost as a counterpoint to Google Inc.’s YouTube video sharing site, which has drawn complaints from media companies for not doing enough to protect copyrighted material. Conceived in the early 1980s by banker Herbert Allen as a gathering of Hollywood’s elite to discuss big ideas in a relaxed atmosphere, the annual conference has become known as a birthing ground for mergers.

Media investor Mario Gabelli, a regular, once dubbed it the industry’s “corporate cupid.”

Former Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner and Capital Cities/ABC’s Tom Murphy hatched merger plans on the tranquil resort grounds in the mid-1990s. In 1999, just a few months before America Online and Time Warner announced plans to link up for the “deal of the millennium,” executives of the two sides were seen lunching by the lodge’s swan pond.

Last year saw the start of a feverish cycle of media deals.

Chad Hurley stole the show at the time as Allen introduced the long-haired co-founder of YouTube to the media and tech elites. Google CEO Eric Schmidt also attended, and four months later agreed to buy the company for $1.65 billion.

This year, Marc Andreessen, a pioneer of the Web browser at Netscape, is scheduled to attend as the co-founder of Ning, a company that lets people create their own social networks in minutes.

Sling Media’s Blake Krikorian returns to Sun Valley with a technology to help media companies craft new business models. Big media had been wary of his Sling Box device that lets viewers watch television on Web-connected laptops and smartphones.

Guests will begin parking more than 50 private jets on Tuesday in time for Allen’s evening get together before the conference kicks off in earnest on Wednesday.

Returning guests include IAC/InterActiveCorp CEO Barry Diller, Coca-Cola Co. Chief Executive E. Neville Isdell and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett.

From the big media camp, the guest list includes Time Warner Inc.’s top two executives, Richard Parsons and Jeffrey Bewkes; Disney CEO Robert Iger; and Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone with his two CEOs — CBS Corp.’s Leslie Moonves and Viacom’s Philippe Dauman.

Google’s Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are on the list, as is eBay Inc. boss Meg Whitman.

Yahoo’s former CEO Terry Semel was still expected to attend despite an executive switch last month. So is Yahoo’s new CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang and President Susan Decker.

Journalists, who except for one or two are not formally invited, will be keen to observe the interactions between Google and Viacom as their companies battle over use of copyright entertainment.

Viacom sued Google and YouTube earlier this year for $1 billion after finding clips from hundreds of thousands of its shows on the service. The two sides have a court case looming in the next few months.

Two Allen & Co. conference veterans are returning under a shroud of mystery. Former Viacom CEO Tom Freston is scheduled to attend as head of Firefly3 LLC. Lachlan Murdoch, the focus of heavy speculation that he will return to his father’s News Corp., attends as head of his new Australian venture, Illyria.