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This Year's 'Summer Camp For Billionaires' Marks A Return To In-Person Dealmaking


Hundreds of the biggest names in tech, media and finance are gathered in Sun Valley, Idaho, this week. They have come to an invite-only conference hosted by a private investment bank called Allen & Co. Mark Zuckerberg is there. So is Tim Cook and Warren Buffett, to name just a few. NPR's David Gura did not get an invitation, but he's there anyway and joins us now. Hi, David.


SHAPIRO: Tell us more about this conference in Idaho that you've plopped into. Is it just trying to gather big names and big money? Is that the point?

GURA: You got it. I mean, it's a chance for these big names to mix and mingle. This is the 38th year this conference has taken place. It was canceled last year, and this sparks a return to in-person dealmaking after many months when that wasn't possible. For Allen & Co., the organizer, the hope is if or when a deal comes together, Allen & Co. will get a cut of that deal. Now, one of the participants here is David Zaslav. He's the CEO of Discovery, and he recently announced a big deal with AT&T for Warner Media. He talked to reporters when he arrived, and I asked him how dealmaking has changed.

DAVID ZASLAV: I think as much as, during the pandemic, people were on Zoom, it's personal relationships. They still matter a lot. That's one of the great things about this business - a lot of really talented people. And, you know, so I think ultimately deals get done based on strategic alliance, what makes sense, alignment and trust.

GURA: A lot of this deal-making, of course, takes place in private. The proceedings here are entirely off the record. And there's a lot of security, and there are two reasons for that. Yes, it has to do with safety, but also, it's for the participants' comfort. Allen & Co. wants them to get to know each other so they can build on that trust David Zaslav mentioned.

SHAPIRO: It kind of sounds like Davos in Idaho. Can you just give us a sense of what it feels like there?

GURA: Yeah. It's - basically, Allen & Co. takes over this ski resort. So the participants have the run of the place, and the bank really restricts where reporters can be. We're in these press pens, shouting questions at people as they walk by. But there are these elaborate dinners. There were big tents on the property for parties, lots of outdoor activities. You know, I've covered this event before, and there are some things that are different this year. For one, everyone had to be vaccinated before they got here. There were COVID tests when guests arrived. And a lot more of the panels and programs are being held outside. In the past, executives brought their families. There's a nickname for this - summer camp for billionaires. In the past, Allen & Co. would hire babysitters to take care of kids. This year the bank decided no families.

SHAPIRO: OK, so who have you seen?

GURA: You know, you find yourself doing a lot of double-takes while you're here because this is such a small resort. So you see Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg walking with her fiance. There's Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, sitting outside a coffee shop with Reid Hoffman, who ran LinkedIn. I saw Anderson Cooper riding around in a golf cart with the media mogul Barry Diller. Everyone has a name tag here, which is kind of hilarious. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg, we know who you are.

SHAPIRO: Right. What about the actual purpose of the conference? You said it's deal-making. Like, what is happening officially?

GURA: Yes. So meetings are happening on the side, but there are panels and programs every morning, and that's all off the record. As I said, the bank doesn't publicize topics, but you can piece together what everyone's likely to be talking about from the guest list. There are several executives here who've invested in digital currencies. As you know, Bitcoin and its competitors have taken off during the pandemic. The heads of some companies that focus on artificial intelligence are here. AI is being seen as a promising trend in tech.

Many executives I've talked to are also interested in the growth of sports betting. The heads of the major sports leagues are here along with some team owners. They're balancing the possibility for more gambling with concern about how that could be regulated. And then there's a focus on streaming video. Just a few weeks ago Amazon announced it plans to buy MGM. There were producers here and directors - a lot of people, Ari, who were talking about what's being made and how we're going to watch that going forward.

SHAPIRO: NPR's David Gura in Sun Valley, Idaho, thanks a lot.

GURA: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF ST. VINCENT SONG, "SAVIOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Gura
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.
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