Technology

Start-ups jostle for Sun Valley spotlight

The guest list features Jordan's king and queen, Italy's prime minister, three mayors, two governors and the director of the CIA. But technology and media superpowers will be the focus of attention this week as Allen & Co hosts its annual moguls' retreat in Sun Valley, Idaho.

For three decades, private jets have deposited executives at the exclusive resort to attend panels organised by the media investment bank, relax in the Sawtooth Mountains and hatch industry-changing deals.

This year's 37-page guest list is the usual media and technology who's who, according to a copy seen by the Financial Times. Walt Disney's Bob Iger, News Corp's Rupert Murdoch and Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes are representing the media establishment as usual.

Technology peers such as Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin of Google, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook have not been coming to Idaho for as many years, but increasingly dictate media companies' fate.

The most eagerly awaited guest will be Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, as media groups adjust to the changes wrought by the iPad and brace for the long-rumoured introduction of an Apple TV set. Mr Cook's predecessor, the late Steve Jobs, rarely accepted his Sun Valley invitation.

On the agenda will be economic, geopolitical and technology topics, with the guest list suggesting security themes will also feature prominently.

Some of last year's tech stars have lost their lustre since they last met at the ski lodge. Facebook, Groupon and Zynga all went public in the last year, only for their shares to fizzle. Shares in Netflix, which still splits opinion at Sun Valley, have fallen 70 per cent since last July.

Older internet companies know the feeling. Yahoo's board is in the final stages of picking a new chief executive for the struggling group, and its likely pick, interim CEO Ross Levinsohn, is on the Sun Valley guest list.

That will not stop a new crop of tech start-ups from drawing attention. Among this year's invitees is Joe Einhorn, founder of TheFancy.com, a competitor to Pinterest and Fab.com that lets users post pictures of products they "fancy", browse and buy. More than 1m registered users are spending a combined $10,000 a day on the site.

TheFancy has drawn interest from other Sun Valley attendees including Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter and Square, and Mr Zuckerberg, who recently opened an account. Mr Einhorn is heading to Idaho seeking money to expand the site or a potential buyer, one person with knowledge of his plans said.

Other buzzy start-ups expected in Idaho include Airbnb, Dropbox, Uber, Cloudera and Nextdoor. More established digital companies in dealmaking mode include Vevo, the music video site that has hired Allen & Co to find funds for its international expansion and must renegotiate a distribution deal with Google's YouTube this year.

Bigger deals negotiated in Sun Valley's discreet cabins, including Disney's 1995 acquisition of Cap Cities/ABC and Comcast's NBCUniversal investment, have burnished the event's reputation and generated publicity and business for its host, Herb Allen.

This year, Vivendi chairman Jean-René Fourtou is the centre of deal speculation. The French group is reviewing restructuring options including a possible split of its telecoms and media assets or a disposal of its stake in Activision Blizzard, whose CEO, Bobby Kotick, is also due at the event.

The most talked-about media deal, however, was agreed last week when Mr Murdoch announced plans to split News Corp in two. Mr Murdoch will be joined in Sun Valley by his sons Lachlan and James and perhaps his daughter, Elisabeth. Another guest predicted that News Corp's break-up and chatter about other media conglomerates following suit will be high on the agenda.

It was in Sun Valley 12 months ago, as phone hacking headlines rocked his London newspaper arm, that Mr Murdoch agreed to close the disgraced News of the World tabloid. The biggest media story of the year was forged in Sun Valley, it turned out, but it was not a deal.

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