Deep Thoughts on Sun, Rain and Bare-legged CEOs

It's that time of year again, when business reporters remind us how much they have in common with their red carpet-pacing peers from the celebrity rags.

It’s that time of year again, when business reporters remind us how much they have in common with their red carpet-pacing peers from the celebrity rags. Allen & Company’s (closed to the media) annual investment conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, is underway, attended by billionaires and other business big wigs — and hordes of journalists, noses pressed against the glass, reporting whatever crumbs of “news” they can muster or manufacture (including breathless business celebrity sightings, who dined with whom, who wore what, and plenty of idle speculation).

And, when none of the juicy stuff is available, they lead with the weather.

On Bloomberg TV’s After the Bell Wednesday, Greg Miles filed this report from the scene: “This place is called Sun Valley but during much of the day it’s been thunderstorms. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Warren Buffett, the billionaire, from having lunch outside under an umbrella in the rain a few hours ago with the CEO of the Washington Post Co., also with Bob Iger, C.E.O. of Walt Disney Company…”

CNBC’s Jerry Cobb, too, noticed the precipitation Wednesday and led with it on Power Lunch: “Hi, Sue. At the moment it’s really Rain Valley. It’s clouded up and started to sprinkle a bit. That hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm among media moguls and money managers…” Cobb picked up the weather reporting again yesterday morning on Squawk Box. “Looks like it’s going to be another sunny day here in Sun Valley.” (Wait, we thought it rained Wednesday …) “Wouldn’t be surprised if we see some of these execs hiking, biking on the golf course, we’ll keep our eyes peeled. We’ll let you know.” Cobb’s colleague, Becky Quick, chimed in: “Those are the pictures we want, those [executives] in their shorts running around. We don’t get to see that too much.” (Think Us Weekly’s feature, “Stars, They’re Just Like Us,” which showcases photos of Hollywood starlets slumming in sweatpants at Starbucks… only with old men in shorts).

But now to the parties. On Bloomberg TV’s Open Exchange yesterday, Suzy Assaad said to her colleague-on-the-scene, Greg Miles, “We are hearing that Herb Allen seems to be having dinner parties outside the conference?” Miles replied: “Yeah, that’s right. There are a number of people here at the conference that actually have their own homes here, that includes Herb Allen, owner of Allen & Company, the host. He is having sub-sets of this conference over at his home each night during the party. I’d like to see who sits where …”

Also interested in seating arrangements (and what they might mean) was CNBC’s Jerry Cobb who offered this on Power Lunch Wednesday: “We’ll see who is sitting with whom when the group breaks for lunch shortly. Maybe that will give us some clues as to the next big media merger in the works.”

In yesterday’s New York Post, Tim Arango filed a report on his “exclusive interview” with Michael Eisner “over lunch at the Sun Valley Lodge.” No news is contained therein — except the news that Arango lunched with Eisner.

The conventional wisdom from the business press seems to be that the Prom King of the Sun Valley gathering is YouTube founder Chad Hurley — and speculation flowed from there.

From yesterday’s New York Post: “Despite the many household names in attendance, the real rock star of the event might be Chad Hurley. Hurley is the long-haired 20-something founder of YouTube, the fast-growing Internet video company. Hurley was corralled by both Iger and Diller during a break yesterday, according to one attendee.”

On CNBC’s On the Money Wednesday Melissa Francis wondered: “Who does everyone want to talk to this year, Andrew, who’s hot?” Replied the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin, Francis’ guest (whose photo-heavy blogging from the conference — “Sun Valley Diary” — on his DealBook blog on the Times’ Web site is truly Us Weekly-esque), “It seems that Chad Hurley who runs YouTube is the man to be around. Everyone is going to kiss the ring…” When Francis later asked Sorkin what “deals” he thinks might go down, he replied “I’m sort of looking in the crystal ball thinking next year we may be talking about [an eBay-Yahoo!] transaction.”

On Bloomberg’s Open Exchange yesterday Greg Miles reported: “Younger entrepreneurs are attending these conferences, the so-called rising stars. One of them is Chad Hurley, CEO of a company called YouTube. That’s one of the fastest Internet growing firms that shares movie clips on the Internet. … There’s speculation that that company could get bought out by other companies here at Sun Valley.” Later, when asked, “What are you hearing about deals made out in Sun Valley this year?” Miles bristled, “They actually haven’t called me up and told me the deal they’re going to do…” before obliging, “You have John Malone … he’s been negotiating with Rupert Murdoch for about a year. … Some analysts and investors are speculating that maybe over a glass of chardonnay, red wine, whatever they drink, maybe they’ll move that along here at Sun Valley.”

CNBC’s Cobb, too, reported the Malone-Murdoch drinking date rumor —differing only on the beverage to be consumed. “Look for [John Malone and Rupert Murdoch] having coffee together perhaps tonight,” Cobb told Melissa Francis yesterday, speculating that “the two of them are trying to untangle their complex relationship.”

But who can blame reporters for speculating? After all, the muckity-mucks aren’t exactly giving enlightening quotes.

CNBC’s Jerry Cobb got Barry Diller, CEO of Think Partnership, to open up Wednesday and admit, “It’s been fantastic so far. I mean, it has been so exciting! Like, too energetic.” Cobb also cadged this nugget from the former head of BET, Robert Johnson: “This is the best place to meet and greet interesting people and to, you know, look for ideas and opportunities.” And he got this gem from CBS CEO Les Moonves: “It’s always a fascinating week. It’s been that way for over 20 years now. And I’m looking forward to it being just as fascinating if not more so.” As well as this very special sound byte from former Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz: “There’s always something to learn. I couldn’t be happier about being here.”

Meanwhile, Reuters’ Kenneth Li extracted this stunning insight from Blake Krikorian, chief executive of Sling Media Inc: “Convergence is finally upon us.”

With so much aggressive reporting going on, we were surprised to read, in a report by the Associated Press’ Michael Liedtke, “Almost all the billionaires seem to feel comfortable enough to roam the publicly accessible resort without bodyguards.”

But then we read a bit further and discovered that “[Herb] Allen’s company has hired a security detail to patrol for the event, mostly to ensure that the reporters hovering outside the private meetings don’t badger the guests for interviews and pictures.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.