Technology

Malone to steal spotlight at Sun Valley conference

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MUMBAI: Liberty Media Corp chairman John Malone, the 72 year old ?King of Cable? will be the most popular billionaire roaming in the Sun Valley Resort which is a host of the annual gathering of media and tech moguls. He is one of the 300 executives expected to attend the conference that runs Tuesday through Friday in Idaho.

The gathering has been hosted by Allen & Co, a New York-based investment bank and has a history of launching landmark media deals such as Comcast?s acquisition of NBC Universal in 2009, but has been quieter in recent years.

The guests, who shed their suits for khakis and fleece vests for the week in Sun Valley will attend lectures on politics, business and other subjects of media.

Walt Disney Co CEO Bob Iger, CBS Corp CEO Les Moonves, and Twenty-First Century Fox Rupert Murdoch, will also be seen hiking or playing golf with their fellow moguls. The annual gathering will also be attended by IAC/InterActive Corp chairman Barry Diller and his wife Diane von Furstenberg.

On the tech side, guests will include Facebook Inc founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, Google Inc?s Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

Venture capitalists and private equity chiefs expected to attend include Andreessen Horowitz LLC?s Marc Andreessen and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co?s Henry Kravis.

"The deal making pace could pick up now that the U.S. economy is finding its footing. I see more strategic transactions across cable and the traditional media sector," said New York-based partner in the investment bank Centerview Partners Todd Davison.

"Media executives are feeling increased confidence to enhance their business prospects through actions other than purely internal operations," he added.

NEXT: CABLE CONSOLIDATION

Since cable pioneer Malone jumped back into the U.S. cable market with Liberty Media?s investment in a 28 per cent stake in Charter Communications earlier this year, analysts have predicted a wave of cable consolidation. The U.S. cable TV market is mature and faces rising programming costs as well as technology threats from upstarts.

"Consolidation in cable is going to happen. The question is, who leads it? Malone has the credibility," said Wunderlich Securities analyst in Denver Matthew Harrigan.

On the guest list, Malone is listed one spot alphabetically above Time Warner Cable Inc chief operating officer Robert Marcus, who is being considered to be the CEO-in-waiting behind Glenn Britt, who is also attending the conference.

Malone is interested in buying Time Warner Cable. He has made an offer for the company, which was rejected because it was not beneficial to Time Warner Cable shareholders, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Another cable giant in attendance will be Comcast?s CEO Brian Roberts.

thers on the list include DirecTV CEO Michael White, whose company is considering a billion dollar bid for online video service Hulu and whose satellite company is often mentioned as a potential merger candidate with Dish Network.

Likely Hulu bidder Peter Chernin, who in the last two years has bought stakes in an Indian media company and online companies, is also on the guest list.

Malone, however, is likely to be the center of attention. A year ago, Malone was vocal at the Sun Valley conference about his plans to gain control of Sirius XM without paying any premium.

This time, Malone will be talking up cable TV. Charter?s stock is up 27 per cent since Malone took the stake in Charter while Time Warner Cable?s stock is also up about 20 per cent in the same time span.

"Malone has created a currency in Charter and wants to use it to consolidate," said Brean Capital analyst in New York Todd Mitchell. "We believe Time Warner Cable is the prize on Malone?s mind."

Analysts say that Malone?s ambitions in the United States mirror his European expansion plans. Malone has been on a decade-long acquisition spree in Europe.

Through his Liberty Global Inc unit, Malone struck a deal in February for about USD15.75 billion to acquire Virgin Media Inc, the cable group in which fellow billionaire Sir Richard Branson holds a three per cent stake. Liberty Global is the largest cable operator in Europe, spanning 11 countries.

Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries will also be seen in Sun Valley. Malone has about 40 per cent of the voting control in that company despite owning only a roughly four per cent stake. Liberty Global recently was outmaneuvered by Vodafone in competing bids for German operator Kabel Deutschland.

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