Sun Valley of the Moguls

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Why should anyone care what billionaires do when they’re not in the boardroom or glued to a Bloomberg terminal? When it’s the annual Allen & Co. conference, aka “summer camp for moguls,” media and tech observers pay very close attention.

Starting today, the goliaths of media, technology and private equity are gathering once again at Herb Allen’s annual retreat in Sun Valley, Idaho. Casual chats there in 2006 between Google CEO Eric Schmidt and YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen began the conversations that led to Google’s YouTube acquisition and the announcement above.

Last year’s Sun Valley get-together hosted by the Wall Street investment banker gave Comcast’s Brian Roberts and Steve Burke and NBCU’s Jeff Zucker some quiet time to chew over what would become a $30 billion NBC Universal-Comcast merger.[more]

Along with regulars Schmidt, News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch, Disney’s Bob Iger, Google’s Eric Schmidt, KKR’s first initialed founder Henry Kravis, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates – the wild card this year is Apple’s Steve Jobs. Will he or won’t he attend?

Morning panels on digital distribution, education, and national security are followed after lunch by afternoon free time to go hiking, biking, rafting – and planting the seeds of major deals such as those above.

Speculation is high that Steve Jobs, after a five-year absence from the confab (and a quick trip to Apple’s new Paris flagship) will be shopping for content for Apple’s products including the iPad, iTunes, iPhone, and Apple TV, a subscription service enabling customers to store content on servers and access it via a web connection.

This year’s event should be decidedly more upbeat than in 2009: tech and media stocks are up, the ad market is recovering, and companies attending have enough capital available to wheel and deal.

Hot issues will include how media companies can monetize content behind and without paywalls; valuation of social media and location-based services; growing demands for user privacy; and how cloud computing will effect software and content access.

Speculation is also rife about potential deals: Will Barry Diller find a buyer for IAC’s Ask.com? Will Microsoft buy AOL? Is Disney ready to sell ABC?

Newcomers to Sun Valley this year include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg; Foursquare founder and CEO Dennis Crowley; Groupon CEO Andrew Mason; and Zynga CEO Marc Pincus, whose Farmville/Mafia Wars social gaming empire has sparked rumors of an IPO or acquisition.

The event is closed to all press, but the media’s there, prowling the bike trails and coffee klatches. Stay tuned!

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