Economy Puts Annual 'Billionaire Summer Camp' In Glum Mood
Back when The Ticker covered the media and entertainment industries here at The Post, we always intended to go out to Sun Valley, Idaho, for the annual Allen & Co. summit of media titans. It has been known as "summer camp for billionaires."
But The Ticker's bosses never seemed to find the money for that trip in the travel budget, oddly.
At any rate, it's an off-the-record summit where, in good times, big media deals get made and reporters get to shout questions from rope lines. The business TV networks set up camera and buttonhole passing billionaires such as Barry Diller, BET founder Bob Johnson, CBS's Les Moonves and Disney's Bob Iger as they pedal by on their bikes. All set in the glorious mountains east of Boise. (Diller is a Washington Post Co. director.)
In recent years, the conference has expanded to include rich folk outside of media, including investment bankers and foreign money men.
But this year, the event seems to have the air of a funeral dirge, thanks not only to this recession -- now in its 19th month -- but also to the secular pressures on all media businesses, as audiences migrate away from print and TV to online and other digital platforms that command fewer advertising dollars.
“The conference is very bearish,” News Corp. chief executive Rupert Murdoch told his Fox Business Network today. “I’m shocked at the business mood, which is talking about either that we’re at the bottom or going lower, but that it’s going to take years and years, like five years at least before we see any real growth coming out of this.”
Executives who sat before CNBC's camera expressed similar sentiments. Few could find any "green shoots," the phrase used by the more optimistic TV business personalities to describe good economic news in an otherwise wintry climate.
"Buyers are looking for bargains, sellers are looking to get what they think they were worth a year ago," NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker told CNBC, which his company owns. "I think that makes it difficult to get anything done in this climate. I think you'll probably see nothing in the media space for the rest of this year."
Zucker is the person who, as far as The Ticker can tell, coined the phrase that has become the go-to method for explaining why media companies have seen declining revenue while moving their content away from broadcast television and toward online and other digital platforms: "Trading analog dollars for digital dimes."
The media business was sexy during the '90s and early oughts, largely thanks to the flashy mega-mergers -- AOL and Time Warner, Vivendi and Universal and so on.
All that's gone. Companies are contracting. Execs are scratching their heads wondering: How is it we can put on TV shows that get higher and higher ratings but provide less and less revenue?
Everyone's looking "for the next Twitter, the next Facebook," Zucker said, without mentioning this very important fact: popular as they are, neither makes substantial money.
July 9, 2009; 5:12 PM ET
Categories: The Ticker | Tags: Allen & Co., Barry Diller, Bob Iger, Bob Johnson, CBS, Disney, Jeff Zucker, Les Moonves, News Corp., Rupert Murdoch
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