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Sun Valley: From Recession Fears to Merger Fervor, What’s on the Minds of Moguls

Sun Valley, the annual event colloquially known as “summer camp for billionaires,” kicks off as usual on July 5.

But the moguls who flock to the Allen & Co. retreat may not be as relaxed as usual when they touch down at the Sun Valley Lodge in the Idaho resort town: From darkening economic clouds to choppy leadership transitions at some of the most storied media companies, there are plenty of reasons for the 1% of the 1% to be breaking a sweat these days.

The stock market’s roller coaster ride in the first half of the year means that some regulars at the annual gathering hosted by investment bank Allen & Co. will be arriving with much-diminished market caps. Shari Redstone, chairman of Paramount Global, and David Zaslav, CEO of the newly minted Warner Bros. Discovery, may be among those commiserating about taking brutal equity losses. Although Warner Bros. Discovery is barely three months old in this configuration, rumors about the next big deal for the company (and whether it might involve Redstone’s assets) will follow Zaslav throughout the week.

Here’s a deeper look at what the CEOs and media barons should expect when they hit the posh mountain retreat in the Sawtooth Mountains.

Awkward Encounters
There may be some tense moments by the duck pond. After all, both Bob Chapek, the embattled Disney chief, and Bob Iger, the man he has struggled to replace, are on the guest list for the 2022 iteration of Sun Valley. And it’s not exactly a secret that the two Bobs are barely on speaking terms these days. Then there’s Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and Elon Musk, the billionaire Tesla and SpaceX founder who is trying to wrap up his $44 billion acquisition of the social media platform. That’s a deal that’s expected to usher in more than 280-characters’ worth of changes at Twitter. And though Rupert Murdoch may be sitting out this conference, sons James and Lachlan are expected to attend. The two brothers seem pretty far apart on politics these days, with James, freed from the family business, moving toward the center and Lachlan, now firmly ensconced at Fox, standing behind his news network’s Trumpian embrace.

Recession Blues
The country isn’t in the grips of a recession, but that’s what many economists predict is on the horizon. If things go south, that’s bad news for many media moguls, since the films and shows they produce are tailor-made for people with discretionary income. If the job market sours and wages constrict, look for Joe and Jane Public to shed some streaming services and go to the movies even less than they already do.

Rising Interest Rates, Cooling M&A Fever
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said June 15 the Fed is “not trying to induce a recession” with the recent hike in short-term interest rates. But the step taken to slow the rise of inflation is certainly one that can’t be ignored by the moguls, who may be doing less dealing as a consequence. Attendees previously likely to talk mergers and acquisitions, the go-to move for growth in recent years, especially as the streaming wars have ramped up, might put a pin in new conversations. Meanwhile, another freshly completed merger, the union of CAA and ICM Partners, will surely be a topic of conversation as  ICM’s Chris Silbermann and CAA’s Bryan Lourd are Sun Valley regulars.

Reversals of Fortune
The giant shake-ups, large transactions and dips in stock prices across the entertainment landscape over the past year could make for a change in standing among colleagues in Idaho this July. Ted Sarandos and Reed Hastings, formerly masters of the universe, are now in the awkward position of leading Netflix during its new “underdog” phase (head of global TV Bela Bajaria’s word, not ours). At the same time, frequent Sun Valley-goer Zaslav now boasts “Warner Bros.” in front of his “Discovery” CEO title, making him the new king in town.

Huge Lack of Diversity
With few exceptions, the CEOs at the elite event are largely white males. And those exceptions are typically white women and Asian men. The Black community has historically been the most underrepresented, despite the number of Black power players in media and entertainment. With new mandates in boardrooms across the country to increase diversity in almost all major sectors, it’s very unlikely the “summer camp for moguls” can keep going without including Byron Allen, Jay-Z, Robert F. Smith and other high-profile Black execs.

(Pictured: Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav)

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